The Darling Buds of May of HE Bates

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Title: The Darling Buds of May

Author: HE Bates

Published: 1958

Location of the Story: Rural Essex, England.

Main Characters: Pop Larkin (farmer, junk dealer), Ma Larkin, their children- Mariette, Montgomery, Primrose, Zinnia, Petunia and Victoria; Cedric Charlton or ‘Charlie’ – an officer from the Inspector of Taxes.

Short synopsis of the Story: Cedric Charlton, an official from the tax payer’s office comes to the Larkin residence to question Pop Larkin on the matter of his unpaid taxes. He doesn’t get very far because the Larkins ply him with good food, drink and heartfelt hospitality and quite soon he forgets the real purpose of his visit. This is aided by the fact that he falls under the spell of the Larkin’s eldest daughter- beautiful Mariette. This is the story of a dreamy summer in the life of the Larkin’s and a glimpse into their beguiling and unconventional way of life

I was first introduced to the book The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates by an English teacher at the tender age of twelve. It seems an unusual book to assign as school curriculum to young impressionable minds. On hindsight, I consider the choice a stroke of genius. I have never read anybody like HE Bates. He has a marvelous ability to capture the art of living a full and plentiful life. He has a genius for capturing a rural scene with a few swift brushstrokes and describing the epicurean delights of food and love quite like him. Here are a few excerpts from the book.

Outside, somewhere in the yard, a dog barked and the drove of turkeys seemed to respond in bubbling chorus. Far beyond them, in broken, throaty tones, a cuckoo called, almost in its June voice, and when it was silent the entire afternoon simmered in a single marvelous moment of quietness, breathlessly.

There is a description of a typical Sunday lunch enjoyed in the garden that one should not read on an empty stomach…

Half an hour later two of the three geese were laying side by side, browned to perfection, deliciously varnished with running gravy, in a big oval blue meat dish on the table under the walnut tree. Other blue dishes stood about the table containing green peas and new potatoes veined with dark sprigs of mint, baked onions, asparagus, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and broad beans in parsley sauce. There were also big blue boats of applesauce and gravy… It was time for ice cream. Mariette rose to fetch it from the kitchen, together with a jug of real Jersey…

Bates has a wonderful raucous  sense of humor. When the Brigadier, a luncheon guest of the Larkin’s is offered a cup of tea after this hearty repast he heartily declines and thinks to himself…

The thought of tea after two plates of goose, asparagus sage and onions, ice cream, and everything else provoked in the brigadier’s stomach a restless thunderstorm. He suppressed a belch of his own, Pop was not so successful and a positive bark leapt out, causing Primrose to say. ” I love sage and onions, You keep having a taste of it all afternoon. And sometimes all night too.”

The book is low on plot. Nothing really seems to happen and if it does, it seems to occur in a somnambulant food-coma induced slow-motion. But the anecdotes are so humorous, the descriptions are so lovely that I at least, don’t mind. I want to be taken to the land of the Larkins and share their summer delights, eat their food and savor their enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life. Everything here, in the words of Pop Larkin, is just ‘Perfick’.

Adapted from a poster designed by Treena Robinson

Adapted from a poster designed by Treena Robinson

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