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David Storey: Saville

The Booker Prize people must like stories about children growing up. Storey won the Booker in 1976 for this novel. It reminded me very much of the 1993 winner, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, though the latter is far more affectionate in its treatment of childhood. This novel quite simply tells the story of Colin Saville, growing up in a Yorkshire mining town called Saxton. Virtually the whole story is told in a direct, Yorkshire manner, with little affection though, clearly, lots of concern for the fate of the impoverished mining community. Colin’s father is a miner and very bitter about his lot he is. He regrets having no money and no prospects and three sons to bring up (a fourth son died of pneumonia before Colin was born). Colin’s mother is a long-suffering woman who does her best for her husband and sons, despite health problems. But the focus is Colin.

Colin goes all through the normal problems of growing up and these are portrayed in great detail – male bonding, animosity towards his school, his parents and having to look after his younger brothers. Storey does not push it but we see that Colin is different from his community. He is more intelligent, more artistic (he writes poetry) and a rebel. He stands in marked distinction to his parents, his brothers and his schoolfriends who grow up to be miners or petty criminals. The one friend he has who somewhat resembles him, Stafford, comes from a very well-to-do family. Stafford is a bit of a rebel. He excels at rugby but makes no effort to do well and takes a somewhat casual attitude to life. Stafford seems more interested in girls and not much else (he eventually steals Colin’s girlfriend, which causes a break in their relationship).

As he grows up, Colin does what is expected of him. His sexual encounters seem to be led by the girls more than by him, while he drops the idea of university in order to go to teacher training college so that he will become a money-earner sooner. But the point of this novel, if there is a point, is that a Yorkshire mining village is no place for an artistic, intelligent person and we see Colin moving inevitably to escape, cutting off all ties to Yorkshire. For Storey, bitterness seems to be the main driving force in the village and you either remain bitter or get out.

Publishing history

First published 1976 by Jonathan Cape