The titular story of this collection is again most readily associated with the 1962 film of the same name starring Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave and James Bolam. Unlike Sillitoe’s novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this story more blatantly encompasses the ideas surrounding the Angry Young Men movement. The story itself is essentially a letter mainly addressed to the governor of the borstal the narrator was sent to for robbing a bakery. The story recounts the reasoning behind the narrator’s refusal to yield to the governor’s conventional understanding of “honesty” and “winning” for which the narrator has no respect. Sillitoe’s storytelling immediately engages the reader; however Sillitoe does not hide or shy away from the various inconsistencies present in the narrator’s philosophy and personal understanding of “winning”, given the reader’s understanding of the circumstances in which this story was made available to the reader to read. This story itself is best paired with the film, especially since Sillitoe himself penned the screenplay, to note the various differences and shifts he made to his story.
This initial story introduces the subject that connects all of the stories within the collection, namely relationships and the associating spectrum of sentiments, loyalties, and fascinations felt by the variety of main characters to whom the reader is introduced—from the very young to the very old. The stories all deal with dark subject matter portrayed through stark realism. A kind of obsession overtakes all of the characters portrayed in these stories, an obsession driven by their relationships and interactions with others. At times this obsession tends to obscure the storytelling, though this reflects the inner confusion or turmoil felt by the main characters. It is through this confusion that convention is broken.
The best stories are those told from the perspective of a child, such as “On Saturday Afternoon.” These stories are told with an honest frankness that reflects the child narrator’s naive innocence. The stories are told with a tone full of pride, describing what’s witnessed and experienced as an important rite of passage in one’s youth, akin to children proudly displaying scars earned in battle.
The stories with adult narrators are not as clearly presented. As in “Mr. Raynor the School Teacher,” the facts are purposefully obscured due to the narrator’s own obsessed fascinations and fantasies, which are burst when the truth of the situation is revealed. The adult narrators layer their stories wth truths and half truths due to their desire to wish for something more, which is often based upon what they’ve observed through their relationships with others.
This is a strong collection of stories that will be enjoyed by readers who have previously read other works by Alan Sillitoe. New readers should probably start with his novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Copy provided by NetGalley