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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
A Kind of Loving
Format: Mass Market Paperback|Change

on 25 April 2017
Stan Barstow’s Vic Brown trilogy are books I devoured in the early 1970s when I too sought to “get on” from my industrial roots. Time passes and the story now has the mantle of an historical document. The bustling industrial town, large factories and coal mines, are at once familiar - but now long distant. A Kind of Loving sits under a comfort blanket of seemingly permanent rain, fog and smoke – so cloying and repressive to a young man with an eye on a brighter future. The social attitudes - towards class, social mobility, women and morality - and in particular the dire consequences of hanky-panky outside of wedlock - these traditional values and structures are under pressure and are at the heart of Vic’s story.

At first this is just plain charming, a nervous romance building from unconfident exchanges between 20 year old Vic and the younger Ingrid; misunderstandings and missed assignations, and exchanges of letters straight out of Jane Austen, a world away from today’s social networking and smart phones.

Despite Ingrid being a fair approximation to the ideal girl he fantasises about during the first scene at his sister’s wedding, and their mutual enthusiasm for increasingly heavy petting on wet grass in the local park, Vic’s infatuation fades, and the couple grow apart as his horizons expand, helped by Ingrid’s tendency to fall downstairs in high heels which distances her and the temptations of the flesh to the seaside for a period of convalescence. It's when she returns and Vic somewhat churlishly revives their relationship, the emotions cooling whilst the physical benefits intensify, that Vic's selfishness starts to unravel.

Vic and Ingrid share a rather passive outlook on life, very much observers rather than doers – Barstow’s own background forming the base for Vic’s upbringing and experience, if not his character. But whereas Vic’s take on things is a progressively downbeat and self-pitying tirade against his lot in life, Ingrid is content as a gregarious chatterbox, addicted to gossip, trash culture and women’s mags. Vic seems never happier than when laying into Ingrid’s low brow enthusiasms, or turgidly proclaiming his growing love for the popular classics whilst denigrating others' cultural enthusiasms for putting it on. Ingrid may be a bit of an airhead, but very succinctly calls him an “upside-down snob” – reinforcing the feeling that the deflating of the male ego is as much the issue as falling out of love.

Thereafter, the final chapters of the book describe the inevitable pregnancy, Vic’s comeuppance at the hands of Ingrid’s awful mother and some sort of resolution of the societal and family conflicts stirred up by Vic and Ingrid’s relationship. Barstow’s skill is to assemble layers of social comedy and emotion on a very simple tale – and this comes up fresh as paint rereading the book after so many years.

Well, we later find out that a kind of loving isn’t enough for Vic – and in the final part of the trilogy we have a brief glimpse of Ingrid in the 1970’s, remarried with a daughter and happy …. and notably, in contrast to the increasingly alienated Vic, still in regular contact with and affectionately regarded by Vic’s aging parents. I’m hoping that wherever she is in some soot-stained Elysium, Ingrid has found her voice and fulfilment, in the manner of Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita.
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on 20 May 2003
I think that 'A Kind of Loving' by Stan Barstow is one of the most boring books ever written (sorry to those of you that think its good). I think that it is far too descriptive and in some cases give you far more information than you really need.
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on 19 July 2014
Stan Barstow was one of number of working-class social-realist novelists who emerged in England during the 1950s and 1960s and who have collectively become known as the “kitchen sink” school. (There were also “kitchen sink” movements in art, the theatre and the cinema at around the same period). Like several other members of the school, such as John Braine, David Storey and Barry Hines, Barstow was from Yorkshire, the county which forms the setting for most of his works; another influential member, Alan Sillitoe, was from the neighbouring county of Nottinghamshire.

“A Kind of Loving”, published in 1960, was Barstow’s first novel. The plot is a simple one. Vic Brown, a twenty-year-old draughtsman working for an engineering firm in the industrial West Riding town of Cressley, falls in love with Ingrid Rothwell, a beautiful eighteen-year-old secretary working for the same firm. After a couple of dates, Vic just as abruptly falls out of love with Ingrid, but the two continue dating. Although he no longer loves her, and does not even like her very much, he is still sexually attracted to her and realises that, because she has fallen in love with him, he has a good chance of getting her into bed.

Younger readers may find it difficult to credit how much social attitudes have changed over the last fifty-odd years, but in the fifties and early sixties most British people still subscribed to a fairly conservative set of sexual values, values which still predominated in some areas during my own teenage years in the seventies, despite the so-called “sexual revolution”. Nice girls, and nice boys, did not have sex before marriage. If a boy got a girl pregnant he was obliged to offer to marry her and thereby “make an honest woman” of her; if he did not he ran the risk of being condemned as a heartless and dishonourable cad. The girl was obliged to accept his offer; if she did not she ran the risk of being condemned as an unmarried mother, a term in those days virtually synonymous with “scarlet woman”. Neither the boy nor the girl was allowed to put forward the argument that they did not love one another, or that they were mutually incompatible, or that they were not ready for marriage. When Ingrid finds herself pregnant, therefore, her marriage to Vic becomes inevitable.

Another theme of the novel is that of social class. In other respects a conservative era, the fifties were a time of increasing social mobility and Vic, the son of a coal miner, has vague ambitions of bettering himself, although resigning from his white-collar job to work in a shop might seem like a backward move. Unlike the working-class Vic, Ingrid is from a middle-class background, and the novel contains a certain amount of satire at the expense of her family, especially her narrow-minded mother Esther. Esther Rothwell, the bourgeois mother-in-law from Hell, is socially a monstrous snob but intellectually an equally monstrous inverted snob. One of the many reasons why she objects to Vic as a son-in-law is his growing love of classical music and serious literature, something which marks him out as a “highbrow”, in her eyes a term of abuse.

Like a number of other “kitchen sink” novels such as Sillitoe’s “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, “A Kind of Loving” is narrated in the first person by its hero. This was one of the features that caught the attention of the critics when these works first appeared; if seemed as though they were expressing the authentic voice of the working class in their own words. Barstow’s language here is appropriately racy and informal, making use of colloquialisms and regional dialect, even if some of the words used now seem dated. Indeed, some of Vic’s slang had fallen out of date even by the seventies; none of my contemporaries would have referred to a girl or woman as a “bint”, a word which had come to seem not only old-fashioned but also vaguely derogatory, and “dokka”, meaning “cigarette”, had by then become positively archaic.

During my youth, “A Kind of Loving” was one of two books every teenager seemed to have read, the other being Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”. I think that most of my contemporaries sympathised with Vic, seeing him as a young man trapped into marriage, not so much by the guileless Ingrid but by some impersonal “system”. My sympathies, however, were more with Ingrid, a naive young girl short-changed by the man she loved, and this feeling was strengthened when I saw the television version in the eighties. (How could any red-blooded male fall out of love with Joanne Whalley, the lovely young actress, later to become a Hollywood star, who played Ingrid in that series?)

Vic has many good qualities- intelligence, drive, ambition, friendliness, a gift for expressing himself, an eagerness to expand his mental horizons and honesty (with himself) about his emotions. In his relations with Ingrid, however, he is also a flawed character, and his main flaw is that he cannot be honest with her in the same way as he can be honest with himself. She also has her faults, chiefly her inability to stand up to her domineering mother and the naivety which prevents her from realising that her feelings for Vic are not returned. The blurb on the back of my edition which describes her as “beautiful but demanding” strikes me as wide of the mark; part of her problem is that she is not demanding enough. More than thirty years after first reading the book, however, my sympathies are still with her.

Others will doubtless disagree with me, but I feel that this is a novel to which different readers will react in different ways, depending on their own personality and experiences. (My own interpretation probably derives from the fact that I have never “Fallen out of love” with a girl in the way that Vic does). That is a strength on Barstow’s part rather than a weakness- a novel which meant the same thing to every reader would probably be a very dull read. I loved this book when I first read it, and it still touches me today.

Barstow later wrote two sequels to “A Kind of Loving”, “The Watchers on the Shore” and “The Right True End”, forming what has become known as the Vic Brown trilogy, and I hope to review those two books on here before long.
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on 5 October 2012
I saw the film version of "A Kind of Loving" some years ago and found it to be one of the best works of 1960's British cinema. However, having only recently read the book, I find this to be even better.
The story is told in the first person by Victor Brown, a young man working as a draughtsman in the fictional town of Cressley in the north of England. He paints a picture of a world which seems almost quaint now, where people lit up cigarettes without worrying over the consequences, where sex before marriage was the exception rather than the norm, and albums were still on vinyl rather than CD. However, the novel is even more evocative in its depiction of the mindset of a typical young male, and its honest and realistic depiction of Vic's thoughts and actions still rings true even today.
Vic uses a chatty, almost conversational style, in his narrative. He takes us into his innermost feelings, including his thoughts on his workmates, his family and most of all, the female sex - at least, those who catch his eye. He finds himself strongly attracted to a young secretary in the workplace, Ingrid Rothwell, and we feel both the pain and joy when their relationship develops from their initial meetings to their blossoming physical awareness of each other and beyond. Vic comes across as a very real character - at times not without charm and keen to improve himself (he listens to classical music as a result of his work in a local record shop), but also sometimes heartless and self-serving in his treatment of Ingrid. However, this is what gives the book its strength. We believe in Vic as a real person, not some artificial romantic hero. We recognise him as someone we know - perhaps even seeing our own personalities reflected in him. His honesty about his feelings may not always be easy to deal with, but this does give the novel its power, a power that takes it out of its 60s setting and into something more timeless and universal.
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on 8 February 2009
I'm not much given to re-reading - life is truly too short and there are too many books unread - but I recently picked this novel up for the first time in almost forty years and glanced through it. Then I started reading it, loftily amused at first by its dated language and attitudes, and tickled by Proustian recollections of first reading it, aged 13 or so, when it seemed to define what adult life was going to be all about...

So that was two weeks ago, and I've just put down the third in the trilogy, 'The Right True End', with an odd kind of ache - almost as if I've picked up the threads with an old friend after many decades, and now, after a brief re-acquaintance, won't see that friend again for many years, if ever...

For anyone who's never come across it, the 'Vic Brown trilogy' describes the travails of a young draughtsman in a Yorkshire town in the early sixties and his search for truth, love and, as with so many novels of the time, escape. His barely formed plans are quickly torpedoed when lust takes over and he finds himself in an old, old trap, married to Ingrid from the typing pool, for whom he feels little more than residual desire and increasing irritation.

Hard to say exactly what's so compelling about 'A Kind of Loving', but compelling it is. It's not just that it's so well and so honestly written, standing up well against, say John Braine, Alan Sillitoe or David Storey. I guess it's also the picture it captures of a time which was more simple and innocent, with fewer of today's complexities, shades of grey and complicated moral relativism (though at the same time crueler and much more judgemental - rules for living were much clearer and much more rigorously enforced and it's to be hoped that todays generations don't live with quite that terror of pregnancy out of wedlock and its inevitable consequences).

More likely though, it's the character of Vic which, for all his faults really rises off the page. His simple yearning for something better which will lift him out of the proscribed lives of his parents and friends, his refusal to accept the ordinary and expected, turns what could have been a provincial small town story into something bigger, more universal and in a small way almost heroic.

'A Kind of Loving' is out of print, which seems a shame as I've read little that so accurately and resonantly captures a lost time and place. Perhaps some books should have preservation orders attached.
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on 11 July 2014
It's an odd world, as my old mother used to say, or rather sing derangedly from the top deck of the 665 into Keighley, W. Yorks., before she was sectioned, the old ratbag! I first come across this perennial classic, as my feverish, bellicose, phantasmagoric friend Mike Herod would no doubt refer to it, were he still with us, via the 1982 ITV adaptation, which featured the ineffably gorgeous Joanne Whalley, with whom I, a mere boy of thirteen, fell instantly in love. Then, some several years later, having read the book, as John Lennon might have put it, and others from Barstow's oeuvre, I was somewhat surprised to hear that the great man himself had moved into the self-same village as the one where I myself was resident, Haworth, W. Yorks, that is. Of course, I never had the nerve to seek him out in person, to say, 'I like your books, Mister,' or words to that aeffect, being a nervous, slightly awkward boy, given to morosity, but it was nice to have him near, nonetheless. Then, imagine my further surprise years down the line to learn that, having moved away from my childhood home, that Slough of Despond, as whatever he was called put it, I ended up living not more than a few minutes from Mr Barstow's own hometown of Horbury, W. Yorks, and not only that but the setting for his most famous work. Goodness me, as my dear old grandmother oft groaned, not only a wonderful book, a window, that is, into a world now sadly lost, not only that, but there might still be a chance that I'll meet Joanne Whalley one day.
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on 23 August 2017
This book ought to be essential reading for young people. The reason is simple; if more young people took note of it there would be considerably less heartache and divorce. Vic Brown is an average young man who is unaware of the devices of the fairer sex. Society makes sure of this by separating the sexes when they ought to be learning about each other's differences and aspirations. He gets involved with a girl at work and when all else fails she uses the old sex trick to trap him. Didn't anyone tell the girls that if they trap a man he is sure to resent it? It happened to my father, and mother made sure he would remember it for the rest of his life. This book is a text book on how NOT to get involved in this way. A woman can be kind and gentle and loving but the one in this book certainly wasn't and neither was her mother, as Vic found out to his cost. Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
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on 19 April 2017
I read and enjoyed this book in the 1960s. But as it was so cheap in Kindle books, I decided to give it another go after a gap of 50 years. It was well worth it, as I probably liked it even more second time around, mainly because it reminded me just how good a writer Stan Barstow was.

But more than that, it was such a nostalgic look at the time of my youth - a time when the majority of us travelled by bus and smoked. A time when a ten-bob note really could buy you a fair bit and social attitudes were so, so different. Because let's get real here - this book could not have been written today, as an unwanted pregnancy would have been terminated nowadays and the father would not have automatically been expected to marry his pregnant girlfriend.

Despite all this, Stan Barstow created totally believable and sympathetic characters. In fact, so believable, I am now going to buy the second two of the trilogy (until reading A Kind of Loving this time, I didn't realise that the story of Vic Brown didn't end there). So I have more nostalgic enjoyment still to come.
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2013
Stan Barstow's "A Kind of Loving" deserves the label of modern classic, and remains an important and rivetting read. Important because, as a slice of social history, it documents with perfection what it was like to be growing up in Britain not so very long ago, when the country was moving out of post-war gloom and into modern times, and the various tensions and expectations this brought for people growing up at the time. Vic Brown epitomises the younger, ambitious generation, wanting more and wanting it sooner, but at the same time tied with a reverence and respect for their parents and the traditions of the time.

Rivetting, because as a novel it is beautifully constructed, with that rare ability to engage you in the lives of the characters and their various dilemmas and motivations. Vic admits to a darker, selfish side in his personality and relationships, and it's this sense of things that makes the book so compelling. The claustrophobic nature of Vic's life as the book unfolds comes over with utter conviction; and the tension he feels in both wanting to escape from it and make it work all at the same provides the drama that fuels the latter stages of the story.

Although very much of its time, A Kind Of Loving still retains relevance today, and is thoroughly recommended on several levels; social history, character-driven drama; a thumping good read. The Kindle version contains a few typos and formatting issues that really should be ironed out, but even so, better read warts and all than not read at all.
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on 13 March 2000
This 1960 book has it all.....passion,grit,style,heartache,romance.... Vic is a character to associate with,to grow with and to admire. Read it 10 times (16 for me so far) Adrian Grainger
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