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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Leslie Thomas RIP

Until a month ago I'd not knowingly read a word written by Leslie Thomas. Despite my total ignorance I had him confidently pigeon-holed as a writer of slightly cheesy middle-brow humour, a sort of racy James Herriot with a swinging sixties edge. Then, browsing the book shelves of a charity shop, I came across a paperback copy of his first volume of autobiography This Time Next Week. The book deals with the time he was growing up in a Bernado's home in Kingston-upon-Thames. It was in pristine condition, the shop only wanted a pound for it and to tell the truth it was the only thing worth buying. I'm vaguely interested in the history of London's South Western suburbs so I thought "why not?". Flicking through the first few pages when I got home I noticed the book had been signed  by the author with a dedication: "To_____ with many thanks from Leslie Thomas. Salisbury 19__". So that was a pleasant bonus.
With nothing better to do in the evening I sat down and began to read. I have to say the book was excellent. It conveyed the horror of being orphaned and handed over to an institution without being maudlin about the experience and it succeeded in capturing the matter of factness about the way a 12 year old boy might accept his new situation. Thomas is not bitter about the way he was treated, he wasn't actually treated badly, but he did  come up against the routine neglect that comes from institutionaling care: nobody takes a personal interest in the welfare of the child so nobody goes out of their way to do anything they don't have to. The "it's not my job" attitude is illustrated perfectly by the fact that he was separated from his younger brother for more than 18 months and during that time nobody bothered to tell the younger of the siblings that his mother was dead. This was left to the older Thomas, still himself a child, when they were eventually reunited. It's only in relating that story that a slight note of anger slips through. Otherwise his account is full of humour and, to my surprise, extremely well written. If this book is anything to go by, Leslie Thomas knew his craft and was a writer of some talent.
I doubt I'll be rushing to read his novels, which don't really appeal to me but it is good to be reminded from time to time that you shouldn't always judge a book by its cover.

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