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Union Street [Unknown Binding]

Pat Barker
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1999
Vivid, bawdy and bitter' (The Times), Pat Barker's first novel shows the women of Union Street, young and old, meeting the harsh challeges of poverty and survival in a precarious world. There's Kelly, at eleven, neglected and independent, dealing with a squalid rape; Dinah, knocking on sixty and still on the game; Joanne, not yet twenty, not yet married, and already pregnant; Old Alice, welcoming her impending death; Muriel helplessly watching the decline of her stoical husband. And linking them all, watching over them all, mother to half the street, is fiery, indomitable Iris.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Virago Press (May 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 1860682839
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860682834
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,907,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pat Barker's books include Union Street (1982), winner of the 1983 Fawcett Prize, which has been filmed as "Stanley and Iris"; Blow Your House Down (1984); Liza's England (1986), formerly The Century's Daughter; The Man Who Wasn't There (1989); Another World; Border Crossing; and the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, comprising Regeneration, The Eye in The Door, winner of the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road, winner of the 1995 Booker Prize for Fiction. Her latest novel is Life Class.

Barker's powerful early novels Union Street (Virago) and Blow Your House Down (Virago) memorable books celebrating the individuality of the lives of 'ordinary' women. After this the focus of her writing shifted slightly and her Regeneration trilogy was widely praised for its astute and unflinching portrayal of issues of violence, sexuality and class against the backdrop of World War One. The violence of the First World War also coloured the backdrop of Pat Barker's next novel, Another World, which looked at its effects on following generations and this theme is picked up again in Border Crossing.

Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics. She lives in Durham.

Product Description


Vivid, bawdy and bitter (The Times 'Barker's talent for gently sifting through the hidden depths of the human psyche is awesome')

Nova --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

* an early work by the winner of the 1995 Booker Prize --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gritty and absorbing 15 Mar 2001
By A Customer
It took me two brave tries to finish this book, and I'm not normally someone who does that. So here is a caveat for anyone who may react the same way I did: this novel shows Barker's power to shock has been, if anything, almost toned down with age. It begins with the rape of a 12 year old, and Barker doesn't let you off the hook later on (a backstreet abortion, childbirth and not the easy way either, a grisly yet touching death). If, like me, you're a rape victim, or plain squeamish, this disturbing book may not be for you. If you can cope, it is a powerful and disturbing portrayal of several women's lives in a vicious, poverty-stricken world: the despair, the ugliness, the violence. And yet astonishing strength and courage still come through; love and loyalty still exist, as far as they can in such a life.
For those of us with a far more privileged lifestyle, it too could have been named "Another World". Strangely beautiful through the harshness.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have to admit when I opened this book and read the first couple of pages, I was slightly taken aback by the crude tone and language used, and wondered if this novel was for me. However I perservered and within minutes I was completely absorbed. The book is incredibly easy to read, the characters are very well developed and you are quickly drawn into their world and made to sympathise with them.
The book contains the stories of 7 women all living on the same street in Northern England. It begins with the story of 11 year old Kelly, raped and traumatised, who struggles to deal with such an experience without much support. Then, chapter by chapter, it deals with the stories of 5 older women in the street, from about the ages of 20 up to 60, all dealing with various problems such as pregnancy, post natal depression, prostitution, the death of a husband, etc. Finally the book ends with the story of Alice, a stroke victim determined to end her life on her own terms without the interference of her uncaring son or a nursing home.
Whilst this might seem depressing, it actually manages to be quite uplifting. The harsh realistic imagery of the poverty and hardship present in the lives of these women is contrasted with the beauty of nature, the power of bonds between women, and the cyclical ongoing nature of life and love. The connection made between Kelly and Alice is particularly beautiful and heartrending.
It's also important to note that this isn't just a book for women - we read it on our university course and for a lot of the men, this was their favourite book of the module.
I had best say, though, that if you dislike hearing about the less glossy side of life, and are particularly sensitive, this may not be for you. Otherwise, definitely worth buying. Unreservedly 5 stars.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding 4 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having first discovered the brilliance of Barker through her Regeneration trilogy, I expect to find her earlier works (particularly Union Street - her first published work) to be less polished and her writing style to be less authoritative and confident. I couldn't have been more wrong. You would not know this was Barker's first book and her writing style is instantly as gripping, evocative and powerful as any of her other works. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in engaging and realistic writing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Unknown Binding
Pat Barker describes three generations of Union Street dwellers, a bleak street of small, workers cottages, somewhere in the North East of England.
The stories that the seven principal characters have to tell, have the location and "life as a constant struggle" in common, but the overwhelming theme is the hopelessness of their lives, and yet in some characters, I saw an incredible desire to make the best of their circumstances. From the young girl living with her dark secret, to the workers at the local cake factory, the mother facing the shame of her daughter becoming pregnant, and ending with the courageous tale of the old matriach moving toward her own death, determined to die with dignity, demonstated so vividly by her struggle to regain the safety of her home having fallen heavily while trying to gather coal from the back yard.
I was truly enthralled with the characters, and lived every moment of their lives through the authors words. Quite siuperb.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To good and too true 3 July 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When you start reading, the prose is perfect, the dialogue so real you can see the people and their lives as if you are watching a play. If you have a lower working class upbringing from the north or south of england, the poverty will be easily recognised. The problems her characters face are real today as they were then.

This is writing of the highest quality and is a joy to read....

I'd like to thank Pat Barker for this great work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Union Street 10 Nov 2008
Shocking in its detail of what working class life was like for women in the 1970s - not so long ago and yet a world away. I was really moved by this book as it brought back memories of my own childhood which was all about poor women dealing with the pain of female existence and the violence and poverty of men who knew no better. I found this book haunting and the characters are still with me a week later.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read
Pat Barker's first novel is a masterpiece. Vividly written, it is a novel about some of the women in Union Street at various stages of their lives. Read more
Published 2 months ago by sherpa
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful portrait of misery
This is a superbly well-written book that delivers powerful portraits of the women in a deprived street in 1970s England. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Pen Pusher
5.0 out of 5 stars True to life.
I lived in similar places in London and found the whole book true to life. Enjoyable read and shall buy more from this author.
Published 6 months ago by showdog
4.0 out of 5 stars It was grim up north - but when exactly?
Pat Barker pulls no punches in this novel about life in the rough end of a northern town.

Instead of giving us just one woman's life story, as conventional authors... Read more
Published 6 months ago by A. C. Dickens
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint-hearted!
I must first state that I didn't enjoy the book at all and yet I give it four stars because it is simply what it deserves. Read more
Published 13 months ago by H. Lacroix
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it
Read this book in college for English literiture and loved it then. I come from this kind of back ground myself so can relate to it. Well done Pat Barker.
Published 14 months ago by Jax Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars I now want to read more!
Like I suspect most people do, I became aware of Pat Barker through her Regeneration Trilogy, which I found incredibly thought provoking. Read more
Published 19 months ago by LT
5.0 out of 5 stars Union Street - Jan Bird
I'd read it before! Had forgotten but didn't forget the story of the young woman having the baby as it was particularly harrowing and I can really empathise... Read more
Published on 11 April 2012 by JanBird&DebMeades
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow - buy it!!
This one left me speechless! Raw, hard, but real. Pat Barker etches out the most beautiful, but not always attractive characters, you love them, pity them, cry with them and for... Read more
Published on 25 July 2011 by RM
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Excellent, excellent book. According to the copy I have this book was made into a film starring Jane Fonda and Robert De Niro 'Stanley and Iris'. Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2009 by trianon
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