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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and powerful at the same time
The Hired Hand by Melvyn Bragg is the story of John Tallentire, his wife, Emily, and their families. The novel is set in Cumbria in the north-west of England, starting in the 1890s and following the characters' fortunes until the 1920s.
John Tallentire is the hired man. He is a farm labourer who does as he is asked but is rewarded with mere subsistence. He accepts...
Published on 9 April 2008 by Philip Spires

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2.0 out of 5 stars Fairly Turgid
I bought this after seeing the musical version, which I enjoyed immensely, with its emotion and character and beauty. Sadly, the original novel contains these qualities only in spates, and is generally pretty boring and monotonous.

The characters themselves are hard to care about, as apart from John they have little depth and seem to merely represent...
Published on 2 Feb. 2011 by stage_one


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and powerful at the same time, 9 April 2008
This review is from: The Hired Man (Tallentire Trilogy 1) (Paperback)
The Hired Hand by Melvyn Bragg is the story of John Tallentire, his wife, Emily, and their families. The novel is set in Cumbria in the north-west of England, starting in the 1890s and following the characters' fortunes until the 1920s.
John Tallentire is the hired man. He is a farm labourer who does as he is asked but is rewarded with mere subsistence. He accepts his lot. But then, in an attempt to improve his life, he becomes a coal miner in pits where the workings stretch out under the sea. The First World War comes, and goes, but not without wreaking its own dose of havoc on the family. John lives through attempts at trade union formation. And there is an accident in the coal mine that traps several miners.
And so John's life unfolds, working its way towards a goal one feels that he never chose. He is a hired man, a seller of labour in a market that, by definition, undervalues what he does. It is his lot to respond to the demands and commands of others. His own preferences, his own motivation must always be kept firmly of secondary importance because, as a hired man, he has no resources to apply to his own ends until he has satisfied the demands of others. And, inevitably, those demands are as great as his willingness to fulfil them. Consequently, the rewards of his labours are never enough to raise his life above satisfying the needs of today.
Emily, his wife, lives a dutiful life alongside him. They marry with their lives ahead of them and Emily makes do, happily, with her lot. The children come - and go, since not all of them survive. Neither do the surviving children seem to have much of a chance of their own to break out of the dependency that is their life. The subtlety of The Hired Man, however, is that this continued dependency is cast in a society that is subject to constant change. It is not tradition, or shackles of rigid social systems that perpetuate poverty. It is the social relationships between different groups that endure, even when social, political and economic structures change.
And it is a life that finally exhausts Emily, leaves her but a ghost of her former self. It has been said that working class life in England was nasty, brutish and short. In the Tallentire's household, there is much dignity, only occasional nastiness and little of the brute. But brevity is always a threat.
Attempts to form unions, attempts thus at creating some stability and security, are described with great effect. It would perhaps seem self-evident that poor people with little security would embrace those who promised improvement. But Melvyn Bragg's portrayal of the process is subtle, and identifies how the workers' very insecurity can be manipulated to convince them to act against their own interests.
There was one aspect of the book that was less than successful. This was the author's attempt to write dialogue in local dialect. Spellings are changed to suggest different intonation and words are invented to capture local usage. Too often, however, this got in the way of meaning, thus detracting from the bigger picture. How to deal with accented English always presents a writer with a dilemma. Conveying local flavour is the goal, but this cannot be achieved if the readability of the text is affected. It is, however, a minor point.
The Hired Man, overall, is a novel about change. The workers' role within that change is insecure throughout. It is not change, itself, that brings about the insecurity, which is the way things are often portrayed. At one point, when the characters consider on whose behalf they are fighting a war, they see clearly that they themselves can never benefit. But neither can they conceive of not fighting. They are hired to do as they are told.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 6 July 2013
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This review is from: The Hired Man (Tallentire Trilogy 1) (Paperback)
Interesting for background, historical and geographical. Not sure that I warmed to the characters but must have done sufficiently for me to send for the next in the trilogy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The hired man, 19 Feb. 2011
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Set in Cumberland at the turn of the century this is the story of John Tallentire, and his struggle to escape the lowly status of being a labourer, or a "Hired Man". this book was powerful stuff which in the current economy doesn't seem at all far fetched.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Fairly Turgid, 2 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: The Hired Man (Tallentire Trilogy 1) (Paperback)
I bought this after seeing the musical version, which I enjoyed immensely, with its emotion and character and beauty. Sadly, the original novel contains these qualities only in spates, and is generally pretty boring and monotonous.

The characters themselves are hard to care about, as apart from John they have little depth and seem to merely represent characteristics Bragg wants to get across. The idea that Jackson is suddenly in love with Emily after a couple of uneventful visits to her house is absurd, as is the development that she two years later is suddenly in love with him when he returns from war. This is just one example of the shallow characterisation, leading to a lack of believability and thus a lack of empathy from the reader.

The book probably works best as an insight into late 19th century life for the rural working classes; I'm no expert on the period, but it seems well researched and certainly comes across as genuine. Sadly, this aspect of the writing style is its pinnacle, as otherwise its far too full of 'examination of feelings' type passages which last several pages, and summaries of what the characters are thinking which could easily have been articulated in dialogue and through their actions rather than being so explicitly described at great length at regular intervals.

The plot if also less than compelling, probably because their is never an incentive to turn the page - not a great deal is occurring, and much like the fells that Bragg so lovingly describes, you feel it will all be waiting for you when you go back to it at some indeterminable point in the future. Books with slow plots can be saved by compelling characters or clever dialogue; this work, sadly, contains neither. Not recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars is an easy read and is satisfying, 1 Dec. 2014
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J. H. Mccarthy "Rex Glevi" (Gloucester, UK) - See all my reviews
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As with all Melvyn Bragg books - it sits in the comfort zone, is an easy read and is satisfying. A good read to have between deeper books.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 17 Jan. 2015
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This is history presented in a truly simplistic and absorbing form. This man is underestimated.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!!, 14 Feb. 2003
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a very moving piece of musical theatre, the play is wonderfully written with a twist at the end that is not high budget and does not rely on shocking an audince. I am 18 and even though it is not on the same scale as other modern plays, it is a heart-warming tale of a love triangle that never seems tacky or over played.
I performed in this play and the songs were original, the script simple and beautiful. i suggest that if you can not see this play, get the sound track to give you some idea of the epic nature of this production.
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The Hired Man (Tallentire Trilogy 1)
The Hired Man (Tallentire Trilogy 1) by Melvyn Bragg (Paperback - 6 Dec. 2001)
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