SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee’ by P D Murphy

As-I-Walked-Out

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Had a hero who shared your life? Wanted a second chance in life?

In the summer of 2012, Paul’s life is falling apart: he needs to change things; find some inspiration; he needs to walk out.

Paul sets out across Spain to retrace the footsteps of his literary hero, Laurie Lee. He walks from the Atlantic Ocean in the north all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea. Lee made the same journey in 1935 and walked straight into the perfect storm of the Spanish Civil War and described the experience in his rite-of-passage book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

Like so many, as a young man, Paul read the book and fell in love with both Spain and Lee. Paul, like Lee, has always dreamed of walking down those white, dusty roads, lined by orange groves, all the way to Seville.

Paul looks deep into the troubled soul of the English national-treasure writer on an emotional journey that stretches to breaking point his relationship with Lee.

Paul is the first writer to fully retrace Laurie Lee’s classic 1935 journey through Spain.

Book cover and blurb via amazon.com

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Paul Murphy had a great plan – to retrace Laurie Lee’s step around Spain, as chronicled in his classic As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning. In seeing all the similarities and differences between 1935 and 2012, the author also found himself.

Anyone who has read Lee knows of his style, his matter-of-fact yet poetic prose. British born Murphy has delivered a book with a similar manner – all the details and facts on the trek, along with florid descriptions, amusing anecdotes and a style that is enjoyable to read. Visiting Spain very regularly since 1970, Murphy decided to set out across Spain in Lee’s footsteps, to be written and ready by June 2104, Lee’s 100th birthday. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is a true classic, and to take on this trek would be no easy task, and that is evident throughout reading the book. As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee battles many internal demons, such as the issue that heroes can be easily shattered when examined close up. It is easy to idolise, something Murphy did with Lee, but when faced with the reality of Spain, with its powerful emotional pull, Murphy begins to see Lee in a whole different light, far from his pedestal.

Laurie Lee took a long route through Spain, a ferry from the UK to Vigo, and walked to Madrid via Zamora, Valladolid and Segovia. Then we went to Malaga via Toledo,  Valdepeñas, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. Murphy altered the course a little, skipping Gibraltar and visiting Aracena and Ronda. The two-year task from the first steps taken until the release of the book has produced a quite a tale.

The book is laid out as a series of observations by Murphy, peppered with meetings along the journey, with those who fill the author’s conscience and pull him from his beaten path. From flamenco music, to bullfighting, to the fascist call-to-arms, the legacy of the war and Franco years, and lost loves along the way, Murphy delivers all the things people know about Spain, along with finding himself in among the contrasting nation. The book delves deep in the author’s personal life and feelings – lost love, divorce, his relationship with his own family – as a man in his fifties, Murphy goes through an immense change, one many could sympathise with, but perhaps not have the courage to fully understand, let alone express. Spain with its sights, sounds, smells, characters, noise and enlightenment can also be a lonely place, one that can invoke melancholy and a sense of feeling flat. Murphy goes through all the emotions of Spain and sugar coats nothing.

Many of Lee’s writings are open to interpretation and some believe his view too rose-tinted, or even outright lies, but irrespective of these opinions, Murphy does find some of Lee’s Spain still lurking, away from the main centres. Larger towns and cities seem to both educate and show a more modern Spain, with plenty of old opinions still interacting with the 21st century. Like Lee, Murphy is most comfortable in Granada, a wondrous place well described in the book.

We are all searching for something in life, things happen, people change, and Spain is a marvellous place to effect new directions. This huge challenge has been written up by Murphy as if this book was waiting for him all along. Of the 100-plus books I have read this year, only a few have held my interest as much as As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee. 

Whether you’re in your late teens like Laurie Lee, your mid-fifties like Paul Murphy, or somewhere in the middle like myself, this book will have something to take away and ponder. Murphy doesn’t try to become Lee, or copy him, but finds his own voice. Honest, fresh and motivating.

Read Fiona Flores Watson’s interview with Paul Murphy here – As I Walked Out: One man’s journey in the footsteps of Laurie Lee

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