Wednesday, January 13, 2016
This is the story of Colin Saville. Colin is the second son of his parents. His older brother died shortly before he was born. This brother was a talented artist even at a very young age. His parents had high hopes for him.
Colin is a bright lad, egged on especially by his father. The father is a coal miner and wants his children to have a better, less arduous life. So he pushes Colin to do well in school, even though he himself is very poorly educated. Colin's feelings about this are not part of the discussion, either with the parents or with the reader.
Colin succeeds in passing his exams and graduates to another school. At this point, I must admit I know nothing about how England structures its school system. I gather, from the book, that how well you did on your exams dictates what school you will be attending. Colin is now attending a better school and maintains his grades and eventually qualifies to attend college or university. Here, again, I don't understand the distinction between college and university in the British system. I'm guessing university is considered a better education than college, at least that is what the novel seems to indicate. Colin chooses to attend college and become a teacher.
At this point, and for the first time in the story, the reader is finally included in Colin's desires. Up until that point, he has been a bit of a cypher, with no hints given about how he feels about his life, his parents, his younger brothers, his dreams, his future. We are told, a couple times, that he writes poetry but not what he is thinking. He gets involved with a girl only to lose her to a rich friend. This grieves him, as he was pretty sure they would eventually marry. At last, Colin seems to have some actual feelings about something.
Colin goes on to be a teacher, and, at this point in the story he turns into a real stinker. He bullies his younger brothers, he argues with his parents, he starts dating a married woman, he gets into arguments with his boss and gets fired. He has an off again, on again relationship with the woman and eventually he leaves it all behind for a new life abroad. What happens after that we are not told.
Colin as a kid is a zero and Colin as an adult is a jerk. For some reason, he feels no obligation to anyone and seems to believe that he has the only true answers to the big questions. This transformation from quiet, obedient child to major pill seemed hard to understand to me. Towards the end of the book, I was kind of hoping the married woman's husband would show up and shoot him.
This was a hard book to like. Like I said before, Colin's interior life his hidden from the reader until the end when he turns out to be a prick. I usually don't care for a book if I don't care for the main character and I really didn't care for Colin at the end.
However, as a look at life in the 1930s to early 1950s for a working class family in northern England, it was very interesting. Too bad all the characters are rather repulsive and disagreeable, especially Colin the jerk.
I see that it won the Booker prize, which seems to usually pick books featuring repulsive and unpleasant characters. If I had know that beforehand, I probably wouldn't have bothered to read it.
For another review, see http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/nov/18/david-storey-monty-python.