05/12/2006

Lost Voices (by Gilda O'Neill)

'Lost Voices' is a newly published oral history book by Gilda O'Neill. It tells the story of the thousands of people who travelled each year from London to Kent to pick hops, from about 1920 to the late 1960s.

The author has recorded many conversations with people who remember these times. In particular there are ten women whose comments were taped, and which are transcribed throughout the book. They are quoted directly, sorted into several chapters covering different aspects of hop-picking.

O'Neill writes well, and was evidently very enthusiastic about her project. She herself was taken hop-picking by her family until she was ten, so she has some of her own memories to intersperse with those of the women she interviews. She adds some background where relevant, too, turning the rather random conversations into a kind of story, and interposing her comments on what is said with explanations where needed.

I liked learning more about something far removed from my own childhood - I knew almost nothing about hop-picking before I started the book. Somehow, though, I didn't find the stories either moving or gripping. Perhaps it was too far removed from my own childhood.

I also found some of the anecdotes repetitive, and others hard to read due to being directly transcribed from taped conversations. I actually found the introduction and conclusion more interesting than the rest of the book, as they reflected on the nature of oral history and of what we mean by 'truth'.

Mostly of interest to those who like local history, or who themselves have memories of hop-picking.

(For my longer review at The Bookbag site, see Lost Voices)

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