Another book club read which I wouldn’t have necessarily come to on my own. I remember hearing about it on BBC Radio 4 last year when they did a British New Wave season but never heard their dramatisation, which is a shame as it no longer seems to be available to “Listen Again” on the website and I would like to hear it now.
Saturday Night & Sunday Morning follows a year or so in the life of Arthur Seaton. Arthur works all day (except for the odd occasion when he stays home “feeling badly”) at a lathe in a bicycle factor, then spends his free time in the pub and juggling married women. The book is set in post-war industrial working-class Nottingham. It was a time of full-employment and the likes of Arthur, young and unattached, could feel themselves to be relatively well off if you kept your head down at the machine and worked hard. However, although times are ostensibly good they are tinged with sadness looking back at the lean 1930s and the Second World War. Arthur himself is an individualistic and angry 24 year old. He rages against the world which he feels sucks him dry, but he is no ideologue other than looking out for himself. He is proud, liking to dress in expensive fashionable “Teddy suits” and quick witted. His actions make him not particularly likeable but the reader likes him nonetheless. However, throughout the book you are just waiting and hoping for him to get his deserved comeuppance… which (its not really that much of a spoiler) he does receive and eventually achieves a sort of reconciliation and peace with the world.
The writing is plain and punchy, punctuated by speech in Nottingham dialect with just begs to be read aloud, bringing the voices vividly to life. It is very funny in parts, for example our introduction to Arthur is through a drinking competition with a sailor in a pub, falling down the stairs and throwing up over a man and his wife then falling asleep on his ‘fancy-woman’s’ (I suppose you’d call her!) doorstep. Having come from a similar background himself, Alan Sillitoe doe a good job of getting inside this community, giving a ‘warts and all’ pen-portrait, neither romanticised nor condemnatory.