There is something almost touching about the fact that Alan Sillitoe is still writing fiction. It is thirty-nine years since he ambled on to the scene with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, accompanied by a cluster of aggressive young writers who briskly switched the focus of the novel from the cosy delusions of the middle classes to a young generation who had neither money nor pretensions, but possessed instead a nice, vituperative line in envy, resentment and scorn: Stan Barstow, Michael Hastings, William Cooper, Kingsley Anus, John Wain, Thomas Hinde, Colin Wilson, Bill Hopkins, John Braine, David Storey and William Camp. Several of these are now dead, mad or broke, and some of the more versatile managed all three after hurling their Bic biros into the bin. But Alan Sillitoe writes on, as if this is a sensible way to pass the time. The words flow, the books appear: more than twenty novels, eight books of verse, children’s stories, an autobiography, essays, plays.
Back in 1958 Sillitoe practically invented the working class. Arthur Seaton, the hero of his first novel, was acclaimed as ‘typifying modern youth more closely than any previous fictional character’. But things have moved on since then and the problem now is to find a novel that doesn’t have an