Robert Colls

Toil & Trouble

The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Family


Bloomsbury 521pp £25 order from our bookshop

The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910–2010


John Murray 464pp £25 order from our bookshop

Richard Benson was tempted to turn his family history into a novel but stuck with the facts instead. Good decision. This rare and finely tempered work serves up a devastating combination of memory and imagination. What Benson was actually told by family members about life in the Dearne Valley we will never know. But you sense the story’s authenticity right from the start, in the unlikely surroundings of a Spiritualist meeting in a dowdy hall in Shirebrook in 1907. Two women and four men stand behind chairs facing a vaguely expectant crowd. They are supposed to be making contact with the dead but Annie and Walter make contact with each other instead. Gertrude Winifred Parkin, their first child, arrives on 12 December 1909.

At the age of 19, Winnie, as she likes to be called, meets Harry Hollingworth at a dance

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