Sunday, May 16, 2010

Alan Sillitoe - Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a novel whose rage still rings out fifty years after it's first publication. Post war 50s Britain is a bleak place. Rationing has just ended, there are jobs aplenty, but war seems to be always on the horizon. Arthur Seaton is a young man in his mid-twenties. He doesn't think there is a future and his life revolves around the weekend, when he can escape in a blur of alcohol, sex and the occasional outbreak of violence.

"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."

Arthur's inward monologue, his ruminations on life and society carry you along with them, his dull repetitive work at the lathe becoming a metaphor for the weeks and years that stretch ahead.

You can see why it caused a stir on its publication. Its brilliant style, combined with the honest portrayal of working class life and the social tensions as a new generation of men and women grow up, determined not to live the restrictive lives of their parents, must have terrified some in the establishment. But Albert's musings on revolution and destruction aren't about a dream of a better world - they're about a violent destruction of the one he hates.

As Arthur juggles his affairs, dodging vengeful husbands and finally finding stability, you feel somewhat disappointed. After all, as the novel ends, Albert seems set upon the path of becoming what he despises. Yet this in part is the point. The author is telling us there is no hope. No alternative - only a struggle to survive. As Arthur ruminates at the end;

"And trouble for me it'll be, fighting every day until I die. Why do they make soldiers out of us when we're fighting up to the hilt as it is? Fighting with mothers and wives, landlords and gaffers, coppers, army, government. If it's not one thing it's another, apart from the work we have to do and the way we spend our wages. There's bound to be trouble in store for me every day of my life, because trouble it's always been and always will be. Born drunk and married blind, misbegotten into a strange and crazy world, dragged though the dole and into the war with a gas-mask on your clock, and the sirens rattling into you every night while you rot with scabies in an air-raid shelter. Slung into khaki at eighteen, and when they let you out, you sweat again in a factory, grabbing for an extra pint, doing women at the weekend and getting to know whose husbands are on the night-shift, working with rotten guts and an aching spine, and nothing for it but money to drag you back there every Monday morning."

But something was changing. Ten years after its first publication, the world exploded as men and women across the globe decided that the world should be different. The anger and frustrations at the system so aptly summed up by Arthur Seaton at his lathe, spilled out into protest, demonstration and near-revolution. Arthur might not have joined those rioting against capitalism in the streets near the Sorbonne, in Grosvenor Square or in a hundred other places - he's far to cynical for that. But he'd have understood their anger and raised a pint to them.


Anna said...

I really was sucked into Arthur's concept of fishing as life:

"Everyone in the world was caught, somehow, one way or another, and those that weren't were always on the way to it...Without knowing what you were doing, you had chewed off more then [sic[ you could bite and had to stick with the same piece of bait for the rest of your life."

I agree, Arthur isn't a guy who's dreaming of creating a better world. He's merely an interested observer, putting it out there how the average working joe looks at their lot in life...simply biding time until , maybe, a spark is ignited and the passion can be found to change course.

bibliofreak said...

Really excellent review, I covered a lot of the same points in my own review ( It's incredible how the work retains its power several generations later.

bibliofreak said...

Really excellent review, I covered a lot of the same points in my own review ( It's incredible how the work retains its power several generations later.