Friday, March 5, 2010

Saville

Even though I said I would either read Byatt or Carey, I decided to go with a Booker Prize winner that has been sitting on my shelf for a couple months, that is to say, David Storey's 1976 novel, Saville. According to Sam Jordison, the book is rumored to have won the Booker for the sake of giving the prize "to something written from the worker's perspective". Again, I'm fascinated by the story behind the novel, but it doesn't colour my perspective on the novel itself.

Saville is the story of Colin Saville, son of a miner in a mining town in the forties and fifties. This is an epic bildungsroman of the progeny of mining folk, of the trials they face: financial, educational, social, developmental etc. Colin has hopes to be a poet, but faces obstacles in the form of his mining father, his lazy and unimpressive siblings, his friends, his teachers, and all of their ways, set in stone by work work work.

This is working class fiction at its heart, and it proudly wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Saville sounds like a D. H. Lawrence novel, including the dialect, and the social distinctions that play such an important role in the novel.

I've never encountered a country more interested in class struggles than England. (Actually that's not true. Russian literature is permanently transfixed on the differences between classes.) I suppose the working class literature stems from a strong desire to escape the drudgery, the neverending sense of oppression.

The actual job itself lends to beautiful examples of imagery of depression, with the looming black clouds of pollution and dirt permeating everything the people touch. It's like the novel can write itself.

Storey's Saville separates itself from the cliches by proudly wearing the cliches on its sleeves, as well as Storey's gift at keeping the characters real, the situations real, and ultimately consistently engaging the reader. The pace is quick, and what little meditation there is from the narrator is poignant and perceptive.

However, the narrator keeps Colin at arm's length. The purpose for this, it seems, is to have the rest of cast interpret him, either correctly or incorrectly. Their perspectives on Colin is what makes up most of the novel, and surely is what the central thesis appears to be.

Saville as a novel is concerned with how the working class would deal with a member of society like Colin, one who bites the hand that feeds him, one that refuses to conform, to settle into the life they have carved out, through sweat and blood.

The emotions that Colin feel are often implied, but so successfully that the emotions evoked are real for the audience. Saville is an immersive experience in that I was fully carried away by Storey's evocative and paradoxically luminescent portrayal of a dirty black mining town.

I was thoroughly captivated by David Storey's Saville, and if it wasn't so hard to come by I would happily read more novels by the author. Sadly, it seems Storey is an under appreciated English author, remembered only as a chronicler of the working class, when Saville shows so strongly, that he is a gifted storyteller. I heartily recommend Saville to readers of working class fiction and even fans of English fiction. Not all English literature must be Woolf, Tolkien, or Jeeves and Wooster.

Thanks for reading. Check back here in a couple days for another review. I'm not sure what I'm going to be reading next. I gave up on Le Carre's A Perfect Spy, but I may try again. Hopefully you're kept in suspense, checking back hourly for an update on what I'm reading.

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