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Memories of Alan Sillitoe

By Len King - posted Thursday, 12 January 2012

Sillitoe had already published two autobiographies, one of which, Life without Armour, I'd read some years before. Although this simplistic Hemingwayesque novel is written in the 3rd person, it could be a biography of his father, or possibly another relative. It takes place in Nottingham, Sillitoe's birthplace, talks about the Raleigh factory where he and his father worked after each had turned 14.

This novel's plot devolves on the Burton family, starting in 1887, where the patriarch is an uncompromising blacksmith who apprentices his four sons and dislikes his five daughters. He serially cheats on his long-suffering wife, and in fact, fathers a child with his eldest son's fiancée. His children are all in awe of him and the girls particularly have an intense dislike for him. And so it goes down the generations, finishing with the elderly grandchildren in a souped-up anti-Islamic modern Britain.

Apart from some insight into blacksmithing and Nottingham geopolitics, there's not much of substance in this longish novel published when the author was 76 (my own age now). Sillitoe died in 2010 age 82 with an impressive list of novels, poems, plays, essays. Major films were made from two of his books... Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I remember reading a piece by him about his much cherished, lifetime smoking habit; he died of cancer in Charing Cross Hospital a year or so later.


I like Sillitoe's work; he has an uncompromising approach to the working man's life and sees the world through those eyes. Wouldn't mind reading his entire list, but unlike the Anita Brookner oeuvre, for instance, he doesn't show up in Kiama Library. However this book A Man of his Time has more than a tincture of stilted dialogue and unlikely scenes, the most egregious being a pub encounter between Burton Senior and his first born child, now in his fifties and a practising lawyer. This child was conceived in a railway carriage with a woman that he'd just met on his way to a job in Wales. In fact, the anti-hero's extra-marital conquests are invariably made up against a wall in plain view, or on the stubble of a recently harvested field; in the reviewer's experience these are not places conducive to a woman's comfort, and need for a modicum of privacy.

One suspects that by the time Sillitoe had whizzed off a few dozen books of the hard-reality genre, his seventh decade was consumed by altered memories of shaggable girls. It can happen.

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This is a review of a number of Alan Sillitoe's books including A Man of his Time.

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About the Author

Len King is the author of three novels, numerous articles for obscure magazines, and some occasional journalism. These pursuits have been supported by real jobs paying real money. After being married to the same lady for 54 years hes just starting to get it right by agreeing to everything. He spends most mornings reading the overseas newspapers, and recovers in the afternoons by painting pictures badly and walking with the dog.

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