Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was absolutely stunning. If you read it, I promise you will like it. The story of Arthur Seaton, a factory worker in 1950s Nottingham with insatiable tastes for married women and liquor, and the smartest, deepest soul. Really a cracking story with humour, a marvelously rich and complex character, a reflection of a time, and oh the language. Concluding with "Well, it's a good life and a good world, all said and done, if you don't weaken, and if you know that the big wide world hasn't heard from you yet, no, not by a long way, though it won't be long now." This is the most subtly delicate masculine book I've ever read.

And I read it because of this article from The Observer last month about Nottingham now versus then, and the idea of reading any book set in Nottingham really appealed to me because I used to live there and I miss it all the time. There is something about reading about a place where you've lived (I particularly remember feeling this whilst reading Russell Smith's books when I was an undergrad). Even if the book is set fifty years before you set foot in that town, and the Raleigh Factory is gone now, and all the rough places are even rougher and even the nice places aint so nice anymore. I would posit that reading a book about a place you know well is a vastly different experience from reading a place you've never been, or a place that never was. They're whole different species of reading, I think.

It was also interesting to read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning having just read No Longer at Ease and Things Fall Apart (which was published just a year after Sillitoe's novel). And the relationship between Achebe's postcolonial Nigeria and Sillitoe's 1950s Industrial Midlands, which is just fascinating. And I thought this even before the African character Sam rolls into Nottingham and they reckon he's so good at darts "as a legacy left over from throwing assegais". Just these similar themes and emotions experienced by the protagonists, and the fact that a "Morris" automobile is a status symbol for Achebe's Obi, and yet Sillitoe's Arthur dismisses an ancient one as a step below a car.

It's a brilliant book. I wanted to read it slow and well, just to see how the words worked. And I have been making an effort to read more books written by men, as I've been far too discriminatory in the past. I've enjoyed this broadening of my horizons. It was also nice to see that Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was one of the 1001 books I must read before I die. That list is a bit man-heavy, really, and lately I've been wracking up a score.