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South Riding
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on 4 December 2015
Winifred Holtby, a friend of Vera Brittain, was out of the same stable. Although this is fiction, the concerns and the period are similar. "South Riding" springs from her mother's anecdotes relating to her time as a local councillor. The dry as dust subject of council meetings brings to life the impact decisions have on individual lives, from making improvements to the local secondary school to where to build a new road or a new hospital. The councillors/aldermen are a mixed bunch, fallible human beings with mixed motives for what they do, but in general wanting to make a real improvement to the lives of local people and tackle issues head on.
The mosaic of lives, from the failing gentleman farmer to the slum dwellers in the Shacks, give a real picture of a community. The characters are sympathetically drawn, and the reader really cares about Sarah, the go-ahead headmistress, Robert the kind yet troubled farmer living in a world that is passing him by, Lydia the bright child of a poor and feckless family, to name but a few. True to her passionate concerns, Winifred Holtby highlights the position of women. It is a world of the 1930s where some women are carving out a career, others have more traditional roles, and where issues such as too many children and inadequate maternity care affect others. Although of its time, it rings true throughout and is an excellent read. It could perhaps do with a little pruning, particularly towards the end, but I was not disappointed, having read it many years ago aged about 20, and remember the excellent BBC dramatisation (in the 1970s or 80s). Good to know it has not outlived its appeal.
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on 9 June 2011
This is an outstanding book, a masterpiece. It reveals a facinating world of the 1930s, of local government, and of rural England and its social structure. It is rightly called "An English Landscape" rather than a Yorkshire one, because although it is about east Yorkshire, it does not draw on specifically "northern" stereotypes. Although a Yorkshirewoman through and through (Holtby is an East Riding name), the author does not use that as her theme.

The characters in the novel are exceptionally well-drawn: the worthy but none-too-bright Carne; the other County Councillors; the ostensible lead character, Sarah Burton; and the real lead character, Alderman Mrs Beddows, who, if anyone, comes across as the hero of the book.

You get the impression that Winifred Holtby, herself of prosperous farming stock (like Carne, but not like Miss Burton or Mrs Beddows) really knows the part of the world she describes. It is very different to present day rural England: there are few incomers, no weekenders or long-distance commuters, and few retirees, although one, Stanley Dollan, a retired solicitor from Kingsport (Hull) who defeats Carne in a County Council election, is in fact an example of this new breed.

In some ways the book is a harrowing one, dealing with poverty, emotion and "decline and fall", but it is not depressing; it contains hope and not a little humour as well.

I have no hesitation in giving this book five stars, but there is one caveat. That is not to do with the novel, but with the production (BBC Books, 2011). It has a poorly written and slightly inaccurate "Note on the Author" and has far too many printing errors, owing, I imagine, to hurried production. But they do not spoil the enjoyment of reading it.
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on 1 June 2015
I read the book after seeing a repeat of the tv series and found only a few differences. It is a book that portrays a part of the UK not too far from where I live and I recognised the character traits of people I came in contact with in my childhood. I really enjoyed it . It is a story about Britain after the end of the war and the changes that were quite dramatic in attitudes to women and their expectations. Also the expectations of those previously considered to be the lower classes. It is a story of a dramatically failed love affair but also the triumph of talent against the odds. The narrative is set against local council meetings and the wheeler dealing involved in land development. I would have given it 5 stars but it is a little dated now.
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on 9 April 2011
This is one of the best books I have read in several years. It's very long - I started it on a trans-Atlantic day-time flight and finished it after about a week in the USA. Of course I had seen the recent TV adaptation, which I hugely enjoyed, and I'd read a little of what Andrew Davies wrote online about how he went about adapting it. It was fascinating to see how much he changed from the book, what he left out and extra bits he put in.

As well as a great story, with so many different characters, it is a comprehensive social history of England in the 1930s, with obviously much more detail than in the three-part TV series; really rewarding to read.

I understand that Winifred Holtby already knew that she was dying, although she was only in her mid-thirties, while she was finishing writing this novel. For the reader to know that adds much to the reading of it, especially when Winifred Holtby writes of how one of the main characters comes to realise that he is ill and probably going to die soon.
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on 1 August 2013
It is simply a great novel. The canvas is extraordinarily large, concentrated on the people of the supposedly imaginary part of England around 1930. Winifred Holtby seems to know the place and its inhabitants personally, to be, in the best sense of the word, reporting on them by entering their minds - the way an everyday reporter hopes to do his or her work. The facts are there but so are the facts beyond the facts - the ways human beings think and feel.
There are relevances for today, of course. All art is of its time, but great art seems to absorb time. Yes, we are in those years, but it is as if they are happening now. Sadly, it seems that we have not advanced as a society very far, or if we did, we have regressed. The scenes in which the poor are judged for their benefits bite hard, and, as you do with Dickens, you can feel an author who understands the predicaments of others.
It should be required reading for all politicians who really care about the "good" they believe they are doing. Michael Gove should put it at the head of his list of set works for all those who can read.
In case this review makes it seem "earnest", then be warned - it is funny too, sexually aware, warm and in its way great.
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on 2 April 2011
I first read this book soon after it was published in 1937 or thereabouts (O.K., so I'm coming up to 91 shortly) Anyone who watched the recent TV series, will find very much more to read about in the book; some may find it 'wordy', but this was the way novels were written in those days, full of detail, so it is quite a long read, the character list alone extends to 4 pages. The many stories of the different families all become interlocked, and it is cleverly woven together, but you want to know what happens to them, and so keep on reading.

I am really enjoying it once again, and hope that many others will
have a go, and enjoy it also!
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on 22 April 2013
Although written in the 1930's the issues of local politics, such as self-interest, altruism, power and influence are relevant today. The characters from all parts of society are well drawn and issues such as the education of girls, the place of women might not be so pertinent here today but certainly are in other parts of the world. It is a beautifully written book with the scenes of 1930s Yorkshire made very real and the characters coming alive in their settings. A worthwhile read.
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on 8 November 2017
outstanding thesis on the ambiguity of perceived wisdom in a mechanised ethos with a particular reference to bear-right adverse camber signs on the Barnstable and Ilfracombe by-pass. I read it until I stopped!
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on 20 April 2018
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on 15 January 2017
A great multi - plotted story set in my ancestral home.
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