By Ronald Blythe
Woven from the phrases of the population of a small Suffolk village within the 1960s, Akenfield is a masterpiece of twentieth-century English literature, a scrupulously saw and deeply affecting portrait of a spot and other people and a now vanished lifestyle. Ronald Blythe’s marvelous e-book increases enduring questions about the kinfolk among reminiscence and modernity, nature and human nature, silence and speech.
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Extra resources for Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village
It occupies a little isthmus of London (Eocene) clay jutting from Suffolk’s famous shelly sands, the Coralline and Red crags, and is approached by a spidery lane running off from the “bit of straight,” as they call it, meaning a handsome stretch of Roman road, apparently going nowhere. This road suggests one of those expensive planning errors which, although cancelled in the books, will mark the earth for ever. It is the kind of road which hurries one past a situation. Centuries of traffic must have passed within yards of Akenfield without noticing it.
Then valued at 60 shillings. . in Akenfield [were] 2 free-men under commendation to St. Ethelberga. . Lands of Geoffrey de Magnaville. and so on, this same sloping heavy soil, so tough to plough, which dominates every view still, this same bright hard climate of wind-chilled sunshine. An oceanic climate maintained by the North Sea, which is a dozen or so miles away on the other side of a great tract of heath full of rare steppe flora, fossils and the bones of ancient men, and in which lies the royal burial ground of Sutton Hoo.
Akenfield does not seek to draw a single lesson of meaning from the lives it captures so resonantly. The book’s lasting power lies in the way it takes those lives, which might otherwise be missed or seem too circumscribed to draw in great detail, and renders them fully, richly, memorably. As Blythe later remarked: “I think my view of human life is how brief and curious most people’s lives are. ” In 2004, the writer Craig Taylor was commissioned by Granta magazine to return to the village in Suffolk on which Akenfield was based to see how things had changed in the generation since the book appeared.
Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe