Friday, June 08, 2018

the last book I read

A Kind Of Loving by Stan Barstow.

Eeeeh, it's grim oop North, ah tell thee. Happen tha'll get home from't pit and be all ready for a reet nice sit down with a cuppa and the wife'll have you out in't back yard mucking out t'whippets.

I'm not sure I can keep that up for a full blog post, if I'm honest, so let's start again. Vic Brown is a Yorkshire lad (it's never explicitly stated, but probably early twenties at most) from a working-class family. He's a reasonably bright lad, and he's doing his best to better himself a bit by getting a job as a trainee draughtsman at a local manufacturing firm. While working here his eye is drawn to one of the girls in the typing pool, Ingrid Rothwell.

Now it's the late 1950s, so you can't just do what you'd do nowadays, which would probably be a bit of Facebook stalking, some light flirting on WhatsApp, then off for a cheeky Nando's and maybe a bit of clubbing before heading back to the flat to ravenously gobble each other off and then beat each other's lubricated parts with a series of increasingly outlandish knobbly sex toys until they go off. No, things move a bit slower than that, and the proprieties must be observed. No-one wants to be getting a "reputation" and besides, everyone lives with their parents and old Ma Rothwell isn't going to stand for any monkey business, and that includes the sound of her daughter being noisily penetrated in the next room. We're also pre-pill, so anyone contemplating going "all the way" runs a terrible risk.

So there's a bit of fairly chaste courting, during the course of which Vic comes to the realisation that, while he's very interested in getting into Ingrid's knickers, she's not really that interesting in other ways. Vic dabbles with high-falutin' ideas like listening to Tchaikovsky (via his work colleague Conroy) and reading Dostoyevsky and Joyce (via his brother-in-law David) and Ingrid is more interested in a night in in front of the TV and an occasional outing to the bingo. But you can't argue with the primeval urges, and after a bit of off-and-on dating Vic finds himself on her in a big way in a discreet outdoor location.

So, obviously, you can see where this is going: Ingrid finds herself pregnant, Vic feels obliged to do the decent thing and marry her, awkward meetings with parents ensue, especially old Ma Rothwell who is something of a battleaxe, a wedding is hurriedly arranged, the newlyweds move in with the bride's parents (having nowhere else to go) and an awkward routine is established. Vic isn't exactly a hellraiser but finds not being able to come and go as he pleases a bit stifling, and can't even rely on some now-wholly-above-board conjugal action of an evening as Mum and Dad being in the next room makes it a bit awkward.

Eventually Vic comes home from work to find that Ingrid has taken a tumble downstairs at home, been rushed to hospital and subsequently had a miscarriage. Ma Rothwell didn't see fit to phone him at work to tell him, so he arrives at the hospital after Ingrid has been put to bed for the night and has to go home again. Needless to say this only stokes further resentment and after Ingrid has come home the atmosphere becomes even more fraught. One night Vic escapes from the house and goes on a bender with an old mate; on returning he finds Ma Rothwell still up and an altercation ensues during which he tells her what he thinks of her and signs off with a flourish by spewing on the carpet.

Assuming that he has burnt his boats with the Rothwells, Ingrid included, Vic does a runner early the next morning and throws himself upon the mercy of his sister, Chris. She isn't quite as uncritically supportive as he was hoping, but does raise the possibility of Vic being able to rent the flat below hers. Upon arranging a meeting with Ingrid to discuss this Vic finds her surprisingly receptive to the idea. Perhaps they can make the best of the situation after all?

So obviously we're in kitchen-sink drama, angry young man territory here, all of it eminently satirisable, just as with Sartre. The hellishness of the cycle of boy meets girl, they both have urges, accidents happen, both are forced into a marriage neither really wants, bloke becomes uncommunicative drunk while girl becomes frustrated shrill harridan is very well laid out and provides a bracing antidote to the sort of Daily Mail woolly nostalgia that got us, among other things, Brexit. This, right here, is the soft-focus 1950s idyll that we're being asked to hanker nostalgically after (those of us who can remember it in the first place). There are a whole raft of books in this genre and, as good as this is, there are others that are probably better. John Braine's Room At The Top, for instance, is probably the best of the "serious" ones (or at least the ones that I've read, anyway), and Kingsley AmisLucky Jim is the best of the comic ones. There's nowt wrong with this, though, although it is very much of its time and has some linguistic tics which are slightly jarring now: Vic's constant referring to women as "bints", even affectionately, for instance.

A Kind Of Loving was filmed in 1962 - directed, coincidentally, by John Schlesinger, who also directed the film of the previous book in this series, The Day Of The Locust. Schlesinger also directed the film of The Innocent in 1993.

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