To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor

To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: Reprint of a best selling memoir about childhood in rural Ireland in the 1940s. Warm, affectionate, comfort reading but somehow a bit disappointing.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Brandon
ISBN: 978-0863224218

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First published in 1988, To School Through the Fields, now available in a new reprint, apparently became Ireland's biggest selling memoir of all time. I did enjoy reading this but found it a little disappointing.

To School Through the Fields is the memoir of a farmer’s daughter who grew up in rural County Cork in the 1940s (though the book never mentions the date of when it is set). Taylor makes it clear at the beginning that she is writing a nostalgic look back at the era of her childhood, before the changing winds of time and then presents a series of anecdotes about her parents, her family and some of the other characters who lived in her village.

Taylor was one of seven children, and I enjoyed reading about the obvious affection within the family, and about her mother and father’s gentle, kind approach to parenting. There are lots of comic and heartwarming moments and this book would make an excellent comfort read. Two of the stories I liked best were about Alice and her little brother Connie.

The author suggests several times that the family did not have much money, but there are other times when I got the impression that they were better off than many in their community. Alice’s father is a farmer and is able to offer some sort of employment to various men in the village. Interestingly, he is happy to give work to men who have been in trouble with the law or who come and go when they like – my impression was of quite casual employment patterns.

There were several things which I found disappointing about the book though. I am not that keen on misery lit or celebrity memoirs, but I would have enjoyed an autobiography with a stronger narrative pulling it all together. Taylor’s parents sound lovely, and some of the other people in the village are interesting, but we are just told about them and I didn’t get a sense of anybody, even Alice Taylor herself, as a person. The writing is sometimes a bit clunky and she repeatedly makes statements rather than describing people or situations and letting us draw our own conclusions – telling not showing.

Taylor opens the story with:

So please come back with me, to where we had time to be children and life moved at a different pace.

This kind of statement is repeated several times and I found these efforts to evoke nostalgia for the past a bit clichéd and irritating. Perhaps this book is not aimed at cynics like me. That said, I did enjoy reading it and would probably pick up another volume of Alice Taylor’s memoirs or one of her three novels if I saw them in the library. Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Another gentle look at rural life (in England) is Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read. Struggle or Starve is an anthology of autobiographical writing about life in the South Wales mining community between the wars. I’ll Tell Me Ma by Brian Keenan is about a more urban childhood in 1950s Belfast. Another enjoyable though very different memoir is Lynn Barber’s An Education.

Buy To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor at

Buy To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor at


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Last modified on 8 April 2018, at 08:44