Fiction and biography

KITCHEJQ SINK St1'J‘Jtil ' ' ALAN SILLITOE Fll‘St Wl‘lteS Putting debut novelists under the

Birthday {Flamingo 316.9% 0... iii/croscope.

Julian Gough Who he? J , ._ ..

uch as we may desire The Great Leap

Forward, most of us live in our own

history, mired by memory and forever flitting between the tenses present and past. Ask Proust or Tracey Emin or Westlife.

Ask Alan Sillitoe. Over 40 years ago, his novel Saturday Night And Sunday Morning was published, turned into a 1962 movie (starring Albert Finney) and judged so outré of its time that Warwickshire has still never shown it. Said the producers of the Midlands puritans: ‘We are not prepared to agree that a film of outstanding importance and merit should be re-edited by the Mrs Grundys of Warwickshire County Council. It is fortunate for the world that Warwickshire’s greatest and often bawdy son, William Shakespeare, was not subject in his day to the restrictions of prim and petty officialdom.’

The film did indeed remain true to its makers and to its author/screenwriter. Dealing in sex, class and alienation, Sillitoe’s debut novel poured the post-war zeitgeist into a pint glass and told you to sup up or sod off. The Mrs Grundys

sodded right off.

Four decades on we discover that time travels but not too far. As sequels go, Birthday has certainly bided its time before letting us back into the lives of three Nottinghamshire brothers, the Seatons: Brian, the TV writer; Arthur, the one- time hellraiser; and Derek, the somewhat quieter one. Septuagenarians all, though loud and proud

as ever.

Alan Sillitoe poured the post—war zeitgeist into a pint glass and told you to sup up or sod off

Childhood, family, first love, war, work, poverty, dreams, marriage, ambition, money, children,

growing old, and divorce: all of life and, indeed,

death is here. The writing is direct, keen with emotion and short on sentimentality, the characters increasingly aware of their mortality yet still with hope and


Brian is the Billy Liar who got on the train, the dreamer who went and did it then perverser wonders what might have been if he hadn’t. He is the reflection of Arthur, of course, the character in Saturday Night who rebelled before settling down and now appears more at



Border Crossing (Viking €16.99) 0...

94 THE LIST .33) Mar—12 Apr 2001


Sillitoe is keen with emotion but short on sentimentality ease with the world, however fast it spins out of his

‘You are a devil,’ says Arthur’s wife, ‘talking like that

about a respectable woman.’ ‘You never know how

The truly horrifying novel does not lie in Stephen King's campfire take on supernatural shenanigans in the Wilds of Maine. It exists. as Pat Barker is so disturbingly able to demonstrate. in the reality of everyday modern life. Not necessarily the normal reality. but in the minds and experiences which occw mundanely enough. but produce extraordinary events.

With her Regeneration trilogy. Another Wor/d and the Booker—Winning The Ghost Road. Barker demonstrated an ability to get inSide the heads of her characters. And in this stOry ot a ten- year-old murderer. she explores the motivating forces which have intrigued and terrified anyone who has thought in any depth about the Jamie Bulger wagedy

Not that this is populist or sensationalist stuff. Barker comes to her murderer soft and gentle. by way of child psychologist Tom Seymour. an expert Witness at the child killer's trial. Years later. his personal life in tatters. he's

respectable anyone is,’ he replies, ‘til they’re dead.’

Call it kitchen sink drama (whatever that is), call it A Very English Existentialism, call it the longest-awaited sequel in literary history. Whatever. It’s a Birthday worthy of celebration. (Rodger Evans)

n'ralking Willi his all-but estranged Mr: ii. a met when he rescues a young man from Ctl'O‘.".’ll|l‘ig.

The attempted suicide. it turns out. as the same boy he helped convict. nou'r released from prison with a secret identity, As they build a new and professional relationship. Barker (Letintertmints Seyn‘iour's ox'xn increasineg desperate and lonely troubles With those of his client. And as the true ston. of the original murder is rexealed. together u-iith that of the murderers supposed rehat'Jilitation. Barker builds a tale of ordinary madness.

This mix is terrifyingly potent. a jOlt to the complacent idea that ordinary people are immune from the dark shadow-rs of evil normally 005‘, read about in the papers. B, skilful manipulation of her characters and their motnations. Barker has created a nosei which takes a brief. bitter and altogetner potent hold. leaving the reader feeling physically drained and mentaii, t‘torrit’ied. iThom Dibdini

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