15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Yes I cry, but neither of us did anything about it, and that's the trouble".
Alan Sillitoe was one of a number of young writers who emerged in the late fifties and sixties and who have become known as the "kitchen sink" school. (Other members of the group included the novelists Stan Barstow, John Braine, David Storey and Barry Hines and playwrights such as John Osborne and Shelagh Delaney). Their work was distinguished by a social-realist...
Published on 16 July 2010 by J C E Hitchcock
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good writing...but
I enjoyed the read, but it's not really my type of book. Rather alien to my way of thinking. That's probably a shame as I would have liked to have more 'empathy' with the characters. Not 'escapist' enough for me.
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. S. A. Blake
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Yes I cry, but neither of us did anything about it, and that's the trouble".,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)Alan Sillitoe was one of a number of young writers who emerged in the late fifties and sixties and who have become known as the "kitchen sink" school. (Other members of the group included the novelists Stan Barstow, John Braine, David Storey and Barry Hines and playwrights such as John Osborne and Shelagh Delaney). Their work was distinguished by a social-realist concentration of working-class life, often with a provincial setting.
This collection of short stories was published in 1959, a year after "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", Sillitoe's first novel. All the stories are set, or partly set, in the author's home town of Nottingham. The title story is both the best-known in the collection and the longest. It takes the form of a first-person monologue by Smith (we never learn his first name), a teenager from a working-class Nottingham home who is sent to Borstal after being convicted of robbing a bakery. (A "Borstal", named after the Kentish village in which the first such institution was situated, was at this period a special prison for young offenders).
While in Borstal, Smith discovers a talent for long-distance running, and this brings him to the notice of the Governor, who takes a keen interest in sport as a means of rehabilitating young offenders, and he is entered in a cross-country race against other Borstals. (The Governor believes that for one of his inmates to win the race would bring prestige to his institution). Smith has a real talent for the sport and could easily have won the race, but quite deliberately chooses to lose it, stopping running just short of the finishing line to allow another runner to pass him. He does so as a deliberate gesture of contempt for the Governor and for the whole of the Establishment which he despises.
Sillitoe never expressly passes judgement on Smith's attitude to life, and some have certainly seen him as an admirable character, a working-class hero standing up to the System. In my view, however, Sillitoe simply allows Smith to condemn himself out of his own mouth; certainly, the author is critical of the British class system, but it seems to me that one of his criticisms is that it encourages distorted attitudes like Smith's, whose anti-Establishment stance is essentially an ideological justification for his own selfishness and criminality. One of the most striking aspects of his lengthy diatribe is that he never considers anyone other than himself; he certainly does not spare a thought for the baker he has robbed or for his other victims. His only friend is Mike, another delinquent youth who helps him carry out the robbery; they can think of nothing to do with their loot except to travel to the nearest seaside resort and spend it on gambling machines and cheap tarts. The "loneliness" of the title may refer to Smith's self-centredness; it is perhaps symbolic that he excels at a purely individual sport rather than those like football or rugby which demand teamwork and co-operation.
Loneliness and alienation are the themes of a number of the other stories in this volume. In "Uncle Ernest" a solitary, ageing and embittered veteran of World War I befriends two young girls who briefly bring a sense of meaning into his life, before he is warned off by the police, who suspect his motives. (Hysteria about paedophilia is clearly nothing new). "On Saturday Afternoon" tells the story of a young boy who witnesses a quiet, reclusive neighbour attempting to kill himself. In "Mr Raynor the Schoolteacher" the title character seems unable to form relationships with women except at a distance; his main preoccupation, which distracts him from his classes, is gazing from afar at the girls who work in the shop across the road from his classroom.
Even when Sillitoe's characters are able to form relationships they are often doomed to failure, leaving those characters even lonelier than before. The title character of "The Disgrace of Jim Scarfedale" is caught between the demands of his domineering, over-protective mother and those of his equally demanding wife, a middle-class Socialist for whom her preconceived ideas about working-class life turn out to be more congenial than the reality; after the inevitable breakdown of his marriage he ends up being arrested for indecently exposing himself to young girls.
"The Match" contrasts two married couples, a happily-married pair of newlyweds and the couple next door, trapped in a loveless and violent relationship; the title refers to the fact that the husband comes home and physically abuses his wife after watching his football team lose a game. Yet we cannot help feeling that once Mr and Mrs Lennox may have been as much in love as their neighbours, and cannot help wondering what the future might hold for young Fred and Ruby. "The Fishing Boat Picture" tells the story of a long-estranged middle-aged couple who have a chance of reconciliation yet fail to take it. "Yes I cry, but neither of us did anything about it, and that's the trouble".
A number of the stories are told from the perspective of a child and are set during Sillitoe's own childhood in the 1930s and 1940s. This allows him to draw on memories of hardship during the war and the depression, although the child's viewpoint enables him to bring a lighter touch to these stories, such as "Noah's Ark" or "The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller". Even in "One Saturday Afternoon", with its subject-matter of suicide, Sillitoe is able to derive a certain amount of grim humour.
In many ways these stories reminded me of those written by Sillitoe's exact contemporary Stan Barstow (both were born in 1928), another chronicler of working-class life although in his case from the neighbouring county of Yorkshire rather than Nottinghamshire. Yet even though they describe similar social milieus there is, I think, a difference between them which explains why Sillitoe, unlike Barstow, is often numbered among the fifties literary grouping known as the Angry Young Men. Barstow's characters, including his most famous Vic Brown, often react to hardship or misfortune with stoicism and resilience; Vic even has ambitions to better himself socially, something which the likes of Uncle Ernest or Jim Scarfedale would regard as incomprehensible and Smith would regard as a sell-out to the System. The tone of Sillitoe's stories is more often a bleak, if sometimes defiant, anger and bitterness, occasionally relived by sardonic humour. Yet it is this very bleakness which gives them much of their emotional power.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story, written in a very passionate and engaging voice,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)Read the "Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner" and wow, what a refreshing change to how other books are narrated! The main character is a loveable rogue and you really get into his head and understand his perspective on life. As a runner myself I know exactly how he feels, out there in the fields, gliding freely amongst nature ... exhilirating that's what it is. I'm looking forward to reading the other stories in this book. It reminded me a bit of Graeme Greene's Brighton Rock for some reason, but I think this book has more feeling and less brutality.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Evocative Short Stories,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)This 1959 collection of short stories by leading northern British writer Alan Sillitoe showcases his central story of a rebellious teenager, Smith, perhaps a delinquent in many people's books, but as far as the protagonist is concerned merely a free spirit, rebelling against oppressive authority. Sillitoe's anti-hero here is very much the logical development, or perhaps antecedent given Smith's age, of Arthur Seaton, Sillitoe's rebellious machine-shop worker from his seminal novel, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.
Nottingham-born Smith finds himself ensconced in an Essex borstal for, jointly with his pal Mike, stealing the cash takings from a local bakery. Sillitoe once again captures accurately and evocatively the zeitgeist of post-war rebellious youth, as Smith despises equally all forms of authority (police, army, school, etc), an apparently irredeemable spirit, whose only feelings of sympathy are felt towards his deceased father (who has recently died of cancer). Sillitoe includes brilliant descriptions of Smith's cat-and-mouse encounter in Smith's house doorway with a policeman who is seeking to establish the boy's guilt for the bakery robbery and then, once established as his borstal governor's main hope for victory in the prestigious cross-country race, Smith's duplicitous behaviour in throwing the race as a means to further antagonise his oppressors. For a story running to less than 60 pages, Sillitoe manages to convey with amazing precision, and a good degree of pathos, his protagonist's uncompromisingly nihilistic take on life.
In addition, this short story collection contains a series of tales using Sillitoe's Nottingham home as their basis, all written in his vibrant, visceral and evocative style, and taking in subjects such as marriage breakdown, attempted suicide, the misplaced passions of football supporters and the loss of innocence as a kindly old man is erroneously accused of child abuse. But, perhaps my favourite of the remaining stories is that which concludes the book, The Decline And Fall Of Frankie Buller, a passionate tale of youthful exuberance and rebellion (Sillitoe's stock-in-trade, of course), which features a beautifully poignant ending.
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) (Kindle Edition)The classic tale of perseverance, of hope and the futility of everything. Gripping from start to finished. Recently read The Athlete by Michael Lawson, The Athlete (gripping suspenseful psychological thriller) also a great book, with a similar point!
5.0 out of 5 stars a delight to read again,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)Excellence is an understatement.
As a an experienced runner I'd have won and kept on winning till one day in their carelessness I'd be gone-truly a remarkable young man and worth reading- English to the core!
4.0 out of 5 stars An England not-yet bygone,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)I picked this up as I'm a former long-distance runner who had to stop due to joint pain. I thought it would remind me of the love-hate/pleasure-pain nirvana of the long-distance experience. The title story did do that, I remembered the wonderfulness of being awake early in the morning watching the sun come up, the dew and the chill, and experiencing all the animals waking up as well, going about their animal business. I remembered the shivering, warming up, the burning lungs, the pain, and the endorphins afterward.
There are several stories in the book, all seem to be set at the time before, during, directly after World War II. Sillitoe definitely writes from the school of "write what you know." I just completed a few years of living in the UK as a foreigner and have to say that his descriptions of working-class people aren't antiquated at all. In fact as a foreigner today I was profoundly shocked by what's been called a "persistent underclass" in Britain. There really are people who pride themselves on never working, hate the cops, are aggressive, don't value learning and have no ambition. It was hard for me to understand them, and Sillitoe depicts quite a few of these type of people. Some of the protagonists of the short stories are petty thieves who hate the cops and piss away the money they get from their crimes. Personally I find it hard to identify with them and find the descriptions of their living conditions rather depressing, but this was my impression of the UK generally!
That said, Sillitoe is an excellent writer and I found he could get me intrigued within the first page of each story. Even though the stories are brief, they are vivid, well-written and have an authentic flavour. I'd like to see the film of the title as it was my favourite story in the book. It's short so give it a read and see whether you'd like to read more of Sillitoe's work. I'm planning to.
5.0 out of 5 stars Why have I gone so long without reading it!,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)A wonderful collection of short stories which paint a picture of a bygone Britain. Fantastically well written, I'd recommend this book to anyone. Why have I gone so long without reading it!
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)As usual good service at a good price. I would never hesitate to order through Amazon. It's a great story which I bought for grandson. I'm sure he'll enjoy it as much as I did. I never fail to find the book I am looking for through Amazon.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good writing...but,
This review is from: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Paperback)I enjoyed the read, but it's not really my type of book. Rather alien to my way of thinking. That's probably a shame as I would have liked to have more 'empathy' with the characters. Not 'escapist' enough for me.
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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe (Paperback - 16 July 2007)