How I Spent my Summer Holidays
Reviewed: April 22, 2008
By: written and read by W.O. Mitchell
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
3 CDs, 3 hours, $29.95
How I Spent my Summer Holidays feels a lot like Who has Seen the Wind, but
it’s an older book with a slightly different set of preoccupations. The
time frame is much shorter for one thing. Wind covered about 8 years in the
life of young Brian. Summer Holidays covers just one season. Wind stops on the
cusp of the teenage years. Summer Holidays jumps right into Hugh’s 12th
Another important difference is that Hugh’s story is told by Hugh. It’s
an older Hugh who’s looking back on that time and trying to put it into
context, but it’s still Hugh, and he lacks the omniscient understanding
of the author/narrator of the earlier book. Both work, though. Wind was told
to us by an outside voice, a tolerant and loving voice which understood more
about Brian than he could know about himself at that age. Summer Holidays’
narrator makes some judgments and is a often embarrassed ad sometimes horrified
by some of the things he did as a boy.
“Events of the summer of 1924 accelerated that irreversible corruption
of my innocence,” Hugh says. “That was the year I was 12 and there
should have been a rage in heaven.”
In southern Saskatchewan in the summer of Hugh’s youth in the 1920s, two
things mattered a great deal. There was the swimming hotel out by the Mental
Hospital and there was the building of caves in which to hide from the glare
of the summer sun.
Cave building provides a chapter of slapstick hilarity early in the book, but
also provides mystery, drama and tragedy later on.
Nothing is wasted here. The swimming hole is established as a place of almost
sexual intimacy - and we do wonder just a bit about King Motherwell, the W.W.
I war vet, pool hall owner and rum runner who swims with the boys - but it is
also a place of high comedy. In one delightfully understated scene a wandering
mental hospital inmate who thinks he is Jesus Christ arrives at the swimming
hole just as group of local Baptists have gathered there for a group baptism
ceremony. The resulting chaos is predictable, but a lot of fun.
Cave digging and another escaped patient provide the high tension of this abridged
version of the novel. Hugh and Peter Dean Cooper build a cave that they keep
secret from almost everyone, only to find that Billy the Sheepherder has taken
refuge there after his latest escape from the mental hospital. What happens
to Billy and the role played in that by King and the boys lead to the climax
of this abridged version of the book.
I mention this because there is a lot more to be found between the covers of
the printed version. Mitchell, who prepared the abridgment for this reading,
apparently decided to spare radio listeners the darkest part of the novel. The
abridgment works. I read the book many years ago and didn’t recall the
rest of the plot while I was listening to this version recently. It was only
in flipping through my Seal paperback edition to get the spellings of the names
that I realized what Mitchell had chosen to do.