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A classic novel of the factory worker, brimming with life
on April 11, 2013
Arthur Seaton is twenty-two. It is the mid-1950's and he has worked at the bicycle factory since he was fifteen. He now is a lathe operator, working on a piecework basis, bringing in £14 per week. Outside the factory, it's a life of Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. What does that mean? Author Alan Sillitoe explains:
"For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. Piled-up passions were exploded on Saturday night, and the effect of a week's monotonous graft in the factory was swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill. You followed the motto of `be drunk and be happy,' kept your crafty arms around female waists, and felt the beer going beneficially down into the elastic capacity of your guts."
Arthur drinks and he brawls. He is a sharp-dresser and a skirt-chaser. In the first part of the book, he limits his carousing to married women -- that minimizes attachments and responsibilities, though it does run the risk of retribution from the cuckolds. Arthur has the gift of gab, and he is one of the glibbest liars and story-tellers in fiction. He is surprisingly introspective, but steadfastly independent; nothing raises his hackles more quickly than being stereotyped: "I'm me and nobody else; and whatever people think I am or say I am, that's what I'm not, because they don't know a bloody thing about me." All in all, he is one of the more engaging and memorable characters I have encountered in my recent reading.
SATURDAY NIGHTS AND SUNDAY MORNINGS is a classic novel of the factory worker. While it is set in the 1950's in Nottingham, England, it portrays a working-class life that had a much broader reach for much of the latter half of the twentieth century; aspects of the life of Arthur Seaton and his family and friends certainly were familiar to me from my blue-collar years circa 1970. In many respects, Arthur Seaton surely is a young Alan Sillitoe. Sillitoe grew up in Nottingham and his father worked at the Raleigh Bicycle factory, as did a young Alan between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.
The novel is studded with slang ("bingiest", "batchy", "bogger", "swaddie") and vernacular dialogue, but it is easy enough to follow. The prose is pared down and informal. The book brims with life and it celebrates life, even in a gritty, grimy factory town. I did not always agree with the working man philosophy voiced in the book, and sometimes I found Arthur Seaton hard to understand, but then I often did not understand the characters and philosophy of D.H. Lawrence, who Sillitoe vaguely reminds me of.
SATURDAY NIGHTS AND SUNDAY MORNINGS was Sillitoe's first published work. His second was "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner". More than three dozen other books followed, none of which came close to garnering as much critical acclaim as the first two. I am rather surprised that there is only one other Amazon review of this Vintage edition of SATURDAY NIGHTS. The novel does not deserve to fade into oblivion. Four-and-a-half stars.