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James Hanley: Say Nothing

Charlie is a young Londoner who goes up North to work in a law firm as an articled clerk in the fictitious town of Garlston. The town seems to be experiencing a mini-boom and housing is difficult to find so Charlie ends up in the Baines’ house. While not quite the family from hell, the Baines are clearly not an ideal or a happy family. There are three people, besides Charlie, in the house. Mrs. Baines is obsessed with money and keeps Mr. Baines under firm control. Mr. Baines is a religious man (Mrs. Baines is not particularly religious) and likes to read from the Bible before meals. He rarely go outs of the house except to work (both Mr. and Mrs. Baines work for Lawler’s, a nail firm). Indeed, he is scared to, not least because of his fear of what Mrs. Baines would say. He has twice tried to get out all together but has only managed to venture a few hundred yards.

The third resident is Winifred, Mrs. Baines’ sister, who used to be love with Tom, Mrs. Baines’ first (and now deceased) husband. Winifred is solitary and is keeps to her room. Both Mr. and Mrs. Baines maintain that she is mad and she is clearly disturbed. Charlie is interjected into this cauldron and finds himself at a loss. He tries to help Winifred, but is accused by Mrs. Baines of having sex with her (he merely takes her for a short walk). He tries to help Mr. Baines, by taking him out. Mr. Baines is reluctant and when they go to the pub, Baines is mocked by the other customers and he flees. And all the time Mrs. Baines is mocking and criticising her husband, her sister and Charlie. As with other Hanley novels, the atmosphere is of a claustrophobic, self-destructive family. When Charlie finally escapes, he sees himself as returning to the world. In short, a typical Hanley novel of intensity and pain.

Publishing history

First published 1962 by Macdonald