Storey's 1976 Booker Prize-winner captures the heart of its characters, draws in the reader, and smoothly traces the life of Colin Saville from his childhood to early adulthood in the small and dying mining village of Saxton. In some ways, Saville is the archetype of all those young people who have used their educations--and some luck--to develop interests which take them beyond their smalltown villages and into the wider world. As Storey shows us, this is not a smooth transition, and it is not done without regrets and feelings of abandoning family ties.
Set during World War II and after, the novel concentrates on daily life as a young boy deals as well as he can with the circumstances of life, even when he has to live with a neighbor for several months because his mother is hospitalized and his father works at night. Always limiting his descriptions to what the main character would observe at various stages of his life, Storey conveys Colin's world realistically, from his embarrassment at having a bath in front of the neighbor woman he stays with to his feeling that "everyone had moved away. At school he was suddenly cut off."
Colin's friends range from Batty and Stringer, two young delinquents who have a "hut" in the woods, to Michael Reagan, a violinist, fat Ian Bletchley, and Stafford, a wealthy boy who befriends him in school. Through them Storey is able to create a realistic novel which also shows what happens to these other, equally typical characters as the post-war years progress. At school Colin is subjected to snobbism, sadistic punishment, and emotional abuse by teachers who seem to regret their own lack of success and their awareness that the class structures of which they have been a part are breaking down. But he survives, making friends, discovering women, and learning about equality, both in terms of women's liberation and in terms of his own potential.
Ultimately, when Colin himself becomes a teacher, a colleague tells him, "You don't belong to any class, since you live with one class, respond like another, and feel attachments to none." This transition is Story's theme, one repeated throughout countries and ages as young people achieve more than their parents, the communal spirit of villages changes, opportunities open up for those who work for them, and life becomes more global. Gracefully written, with not a word out of place, I can not recall when I've found a 500-page book that reads so quickly and so enjoyably. Mary Whipple
on 27 August 2007
Saville won the Booker Prize in 1976. In such a vast novel it is inevitable that the pace will occasionally quicken and slacken, but a book like this can be read over weeks, almost dipped into as the passing phases of Colin's life unfold. David Story was born in Wakefield, and so was I. It could be argued that his most famous and perhaps still most successful work is "This Sporting Life", a portrait of a Rugby League player who achieves local fame and then notoriety as his life and career blossom and then fall apart. It was filmed in the early 1960s, with Richard Harris playing the starring role. Along with about 28000 others, I was in Wakefield Trinity's Belle Vue ground soon after midday to make sure that I got a standing place by the railings next to the pitch to see Trinity play Wigan in a cup-tie. I was only ten and needed to be early because, had I been further back amongst the crowd, I would have seen nothing. Wakefield beat Wigan 5-4, with Fred Smith scoring the only try of the game at my end. They went on to win at Wembley that year, beating Huddersfield in the game where Neil Fox used a drop goal strategy not seen before or since.
But before that cup-tie against Wigan, the packed Trinity ground became a film set. We were all unpaid extras as Richard Harris and members of the Trinity second team filmed some actions Sequences for "This Sporting Life". I show no disrespect for Richard Harris by recalling that the sequence required a whole string of takes, necessitated by the fact that the star kept dropping the ball! I have seen the film several times, but I have not yet managed to spot my short-trousered legs behind the sticks at the Belle Vue end. They are there, somewhere.
I digress at length from my intended review because Colin, the central character of Saville, could easily have been me, or perhaps my older brother. Like Colin we were brought up in a small Yorkshire mining village. Also like Colin we went to a grammar school and experienced similar tensions and contradictions as a result of social class differences. And again like Colin we both became, as a result of that education, something previous generations of our permanent-feeling community had never aspired to, perhaps never knew existed. Unlike Colin, we did not aspire to become writers, except of course for me, who eventually tried to become one! It was the education that changed everything and this aspect of Saville is beautifully portrayed, right down to the visit to the old Kingswell's shop in Wakefield to buy the ludicrously expensive school uniform, a source of pride for the miner's family, but also a pointer indicating how lives will inevitably diverge.
Saville also deals with how social mores were changing in the new second half of the twentieth century. Colin's parents simply could not relate to how his life was developing, perhaps finding hardest to stomach the individuality that he developed and was determined to express. It was a quality you could not pursue when, as poor people, your lives were always inter-dependent. The communal nature of their poverty made this a desire they could not comprehend and occasionally his pursuit of his own ends was seen by them - perhaps quite rightly - as errant selfishness. Of course, we now live in an age where the individual is the norm, the indivisible unit of society and, perhaps, where an idea of community is mere nostalgia.
Above all else David Storey's Saville evokes a time and a place. It also evokes a language, a dialect that preserves the use of thee, thy, thou and thine and, although occasionally laboured, the book's specialised vocabulary and syntax create the sound of a Yorkshire twang.
Saville has no vast themes, no overtly historical settings against which the characters enact their lives. Rather it concentrates on a social and economic setting which was quite peculiar to these mining communities in Yorkshire. But this is the book's real strength. What we have is a social document, as powerful and yet as specific as some of its nineteenth century equivalents. Now, after the closure of the pits, though the villages remain, these communities have disappeared to be replaced by settings that perhaps offer less chance of social mobility or self-respect than in Saville's time. This provides and irony that my own novel set in these same places might bring into focus. But in Saville's time, the idea that the pits would close never entered anyone's head, a fact which makes Colin's transformation through the book remarkable, credible and yet ultimately sad, since we now see it as effectively driven by necessity, not choice.
27 August 2007
on 2 December 2012
Saville is a portrait of a young man growing up in a working class family in the North of England who takes advantage of the opportunities given to the working classes in Britain after the Second World War to rise up through education to a more respectable position in the middle classes, only to find himself unhappy and isolated.
The achievement of the novel is its wholly believable portrayal of a family where generations are separated by their experiences and expectations, and the characters throughout are believable and sympathetic, especially the protagonist, whose frustrations - which might seem somewhat frivolous and existential - are made painfully clear and real. The Booker Prize it won in 1976 was presumably reward for this skill. It describes the sense of being let down and misunderstood by one's community yet unable to ever really escape its values and judgments - a feeling many people who 'climb' from working class backgrounds must have felt at some point - better than any novel I've ever read.
The limitation, however, is that it can be a horrible slog at times. This is a long novel and much of it is dedicated to repetitive and not very interesting (partly because they're so often miserable) childhood experiences of school and family life. We become as frustrated with Saville's conservative and old-fashioned, small-minded though fundamentally decent parents as he does. Also, partly because its so unfashionable nowadays, it is hard for the reader to take all this working class kitchen sink drama seriously. At the more po-faced moments, you are reminded of Monty Python's portrayal of cloth capped Northerners competing about how grim their childhoods were. Saville's father's resignation to unquestionably ekeing out a living, whilst being living proof of how grim and hopeless it is down't'pit, is particularly galling after a while.
So a really mixed bag overall. I can't say I didn't respect this novel enormously, but I can definitely say I did not enjoy it and found it the opposite of a page-turner. I'm simultaneously glad I finished it and yet have no desire to ever pick it up again. Make of that what you will!
on 9 January 2015
Like so many great novels, the heart of this tale is the quest for identity. Although focussing primarily on one Saville, Colin, who wins a scholarship to Grammar School but constantly wrestles with the themes of 'should I stay or should I go', the rest of the Savilles are essential to the story. The book is set in a colliery village in the north of England (County Durham?), and follows the settled and seemingly unchanging fortunes of the Saville family from the 1920s into the 1960s. Themes of class, poverty, identity, duty, longing and contentment are intertwined in this lengthy family saga. This was a good read, and only failed to get a 5 star review from me because I didn't feel it ended as well as it deserved.
David Storey won the Booker Prize for Saville in 1976, demonstrating a remarkable prescience with regard to the demise of the mining communities in the 1980s. Highly recommended.
on 31 August 2009
Others have mentioned the synopsis of this novel, I just wanted to comment on how I believe many will relate to the constraints of family loyalties coupled with a need to spread your wings. David Storeys gritty writing conveys this so well. A wonderful novel to carry through life.
on 21 September 2011
Colin Saville's first day at grammar school - when he makes the transition from successful miners son, the first to pass the eleven plus, to being small again and subject to merciless bullying as delivered by his teachers, who seem to be greater masters in the fine art of personal humiliation than they are in their supposed role as teachers:
He (the teacher) examined the register once again. 'Father's occupation.' He wrote something down on a piece of paper. 'Now 'colliery worker' means that he works at a coal mine, is that correct?'
'Yes' Colin said.
'Yes, sir.' he said.
'Now, there are any number of people who might legitimately say they work at a coal-mine. The manager of a coal-mine might say he works at a coal-mine.'
He waited for an answer.
'Yes,' he said, then added, 'Sir'.
I take it of course, he's no such thing.'
Colin, waited, unsure of what to add.
'He's not the manager, Saville?'
'No.' He shook his head.
'No, sir.' he said.
'He's not the deputy-manager, either, I imagine.'
'No.', he said.
'Does he work on top, or, as they have it, underneath?'
'Does he superintend the men down there, or does he actually hew the coal itself?'
'He hews the coal.', he said.
''E 'ews the coal.'
The class had laughed.
'In other words, Saville, he's a miner?'
I really enjoyed this book: it's thick, unpretentious and subtly powerful, following the life of Colin Saville who was born just before the war and whose father is a miner. The family live in a mining village and they, like most of their neighbours are poor.
Colin's father has aspirations and when Colin is found to be clever enough to aim for the grammar school, his father puts all his ambition into him.
And so Colin goes to grammar school and has to learn to survive in a very different environment. Nothing will ever be the same for him, nor will it be the same for his family either.
Within the story about Colin and his family, there's a bigger story about social change in Britain after the Second World War. It's about children becoming alienated from parents and parents becoming alienated from their children. And it's also about belonging - and not belonging.
When reading this book, I felt like I was in one of those very quiet and understated British films about the British working class. I think that some people describe this as 'gritty realism'. I've always enjoyed these films and this gave me another reason to enjoy the book. I think that if you like those sort of films, you will enjoy this book.
on 9 July 2009
As a northern, state grammar school educated reader I identified with Saville .However,the northern lingo could put off some readers .If you could not hear the written words in your head , conversational parts would be difficult to understand for a non northerner. I found the fact that it was written in the third person quite strange and off putting initially, but having accepted it , I realise it was an essential writer's tool in creating the atmosphere he wanted. The results of ambitious parents trying to " better" their offspring's opportunities in life is certainly thought provoking, and not always predictable. A good read !
on 4 March 2011
The evocation of time, place and character is strong, but the alienation of the eponymous hero is reflected in a narrative that only really describes the outside of everything. The story is disjointed and there seem to be huge blank areas of the character's life about which we are told nothing. But for all that, the story has stayed with me. It's really a novel that evokes a certain place and time. And that is very memorable.
on 18 April 2015
A classic. Give it some time. A fully deserved Booker Prize winner.
on 15 December 2015
great book thank you