Summer With Monika by Roger McGough – Review

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By Natasha Meek

Over the years Roger McGough has marked himself as one of Britain’s most prominent poets. Carol Ann Duffy describes him as ‘the patron saint of poetry’ and readers young and old worship his humorous yet humane outlook on life.

The Liverpudlian found the power of the poem through The Mersey Sound – an anthology by McGough himself, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri published in 1967. In the era of Beatlemania, Beat Poetry and lively youths, the book was an honest depiction of urban life in the North, selling over 500,000 copies. Whether you found him through poems from your childhood or perhaps the sound of his voice on the radio, there is no denying he has become a household name.

However, have you ever spent ‘Summer with Monika’? The book, published in 1967, is back in print again and was originally illustrated by Peter Blake, who designed the cover for The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s album.

summer with monika roger mcgough book review coverIn this 50th Anniversary edition, celebrated illustrator Chris Riddell  creates charming and quirky pieces for every page. Whether it’s the neighbour confused about ten days-worth of milk bottles left unused or Death with his axe, the illustrations add something incredibly endearing and comforting to the reading experience.

“Bitter-sweet story of love”

A simple poster led McGough to take a nostalgic dive into young love and compromise. Director Ingmar Bergman’s Summer With Monika first hit the cinemas in 1953. The Swedish film was controversial, frank and critical of traditional female roles. An advertisement of a nude Monika outside the local picturehouse was all it took to fire McGough’s own imagination.

A European attitude to film-making, so different from the still mostly stuffy British attitudes in the 60s, alongside the image of a golden Summer’s day – this film seemed a million miles away from his small walk to the pub.

In his Summer With Monika, McGough retells a fast-paced and bitter-sweet story of love. You might know how the story goes – joy, jealousy and the rest, until love is ‘like a cup of tea in bed’.

McGough’s narrator is secretive and playful, ‘only we know what it means’ he says. The book is in celebration of that lovely in-joke that comes with a relationship. This is a book that makes you fall in love with love itself, even the heart break and frustration.

As always, McGough is accessible to all, no flowery language is to be read – a value so close to his heart. Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “From my own point of view, yes, I prefer poems that I don’t have difficulty understanding.”

However, do not assume easy reading poetry cannot be worthwhile. Summer With Monika gorgeously captures infatuation, the comfort of another human but maintains a sense of reality – that maybe love isn’t perfect or a fairy tale – simply a cup of tea in bed.

‘Summer With Monika’ by Roger McGough is published by Viking, £10 hardback


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