Review: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe

2 comments

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe book cover
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) is a skilful portrayal of what it was to be a young working class man in 1950s Britain. Arthur Seaton spends his weeks working a monotonous job at the local factory and his weekends drinking, fighting, and sleeping with married women. With the threat of a new war hanging heavy in the background Arthur’s hedonistic approach to life is representative of a man without a future, a man raging blindly against the establishment. It’s not until his misdeeds come back on him that Arthur contemplates changing his ways and conforming to the system he rages against.

The post-war period during which the novel is set saw the end of rationing and with plenty of jobs, and unprecedented levels of prosperity for the [still clearly defined] working classes, one might imagine an air of ease and contentment amongst those that had seen the war. However, Sillitoe draws a very different picture of working class Nottingham, the angst and rebellion churning inside of Arthur mirrored by many of his peers. Interestingly, Arthur’s revolt is very much an individual affair, feeling no solidarity with the community as a whole, having no discernable target, and indeed cuckolding friends and work colleagues who are in the same boat as himself. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is considered one of the best known ‘kitchen sink’ novels, a term used to describe many post-war social-realist works that focused on the working classes, and has gone down as one of the best known novels of its time.

Sillitoe’s writing is sharp and uncomplicated, his dialogue capturing the local twang and placing the reader in the midst of Arthur’s world. Indeed, Arthur’s internal monologue draws the reader in with characteristic snipes and engaging observations. Although it was always denied by Sillitoe, it seems likely that Arthur is in some ways an autographical creation. Despite the crispness of the prose, there are minor structural deficiencies in the novel (for example, at the start of the novel Arthur has two brothers, Fred and Sam, but through the novel Sam fades into the background, and a later character is even given the same name). Many parts of the novel are derived from short stories that Sillitoe drafted and this would explain the lack of structural consistency, but in no way abates its jarring effect.

Without sentimentalizing his own background, much of which is described in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Sillitoe perfectly captures the post-war atmosphere amongst the working classes. Undoubtedly, the novel will endure as an invaluable social commentary of British life in the 1950s.

Alan Sillitoe's writing is sharp, simple, and atmospheric - I felt immediately drawn into Arthur's world and thoroughly enjoyed his ruminations on life. An excellent commentary on the working classes and the nature of manhood.


Useful Links
Reviews of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning on Amazon (UK)
Film adaptation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning on Amazon (UK)

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2 comments:

resolutereader said...

I agree with your review. I didn't notice the deficiencies in the plot. I suspect that this is because I was carried along by the general flow of the book. As I said in my own review, the power of the novel is the way in which the anger and frustration expressed by Arthur is contained by the system. The collective frustrations were to spill out onto the streets only a few years later. By the way, the obituary in Socialist Worker is a lovely piece of writing and captures some of the contradictions of the angry young men.

http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21018

bibliofreak said...

Thanks for the link - a really interesting article.

I agree that the deficiencies don't especially detract from the novel as a whole, but they still irk me a little bit. I really enjoyed your post on the book, and found I agreed with most of it too - will certainly stop back and read more.