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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.