SOMETHING OLD

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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe (First published in Great Britain by W.H. Allen and Co. Ltd, 1958)

“If you went through life refusing all the bait dangled before you, that would be no life at all. No changes would be made and you would have nothing to fight against. Life would be dull as ditch water.”

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning sounds a bit grim if you read the blurb. It’s set in Nottingham in the 1950s and based around the day to day life and capers of young Arthur Seaton, a lanky, cock-sure guy who lives at home and who spends his time working in a bicycle factory in order that he might have enough money to get off his face at weekends. When you couple this with the fact that the dialogue is written in Midlands dialect it doesn’t sound like suitable reading for someone struggling with post-Christmas blues and a chocolate coin addiction, but it was, it was! Amidst the binge drinking, adultery and anti-authoritarian man against the machine muttering (in the book I mean), there is a gentle, often poignant story, which I enjoyed very much indeed.

I imagine it is the sort of book which I’d have resented had I been forced to read it at school and obliged to pick over sociological and historical themes and context in which it was written (the emergence of youth culture following the end of post war austerity, the burgeoning of consumer culture etc. etc. etc.) but, as it happens,  I allowed myself to consume the story at the same pace as I was troughing left over Christmas cake and, in such a self-indulgent mode, felt totally free to ignore all and any such references.

It’s an unexpectedly poetic piece of writing – no mean feat given that all the dialogue is written in a coarse Nottingham accent and it’s set in a bike factory. The only thing that irritated me about my reading experience was when, feeling really smug about discovering such a great book, I told my Dad about it and he pointed out that I hadn’t stumbled across some latent genius – loads of people realised how brilliant Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was, gave it awards and made a film out of it over half a century before I’d even read it.

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