Sillitoe, Alan Birthday

ISBN 13: 9780007108831

Birthday

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9780007108831: Birthday

The sequel to ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.

‘Birthday’ is the sequel to Alan Sillitoe’s classic novel of the 1950s, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.

Four decades on from the novel which was at the forefront of the new wave of British literature, we rediscover the Seaton brothers: older, certainly; wiser – possibly not.

Arthur and Brian Seaton, one with an ailing wife, one with an emotional knapsack of failure and success, are on their way to Jenny’s seventieth birthday party. Jenny and Brian had years ago experimented with sex – semi-clothed, stealthy, with the bonus of fear. Arthur, of course, had cut a winning swathe through the married and unmarried women of Nottinghamshire.

Life has changed. But there is still pleasure; and still pain.

Alan Sillitoe is undoubtedly one of the greatest English writers of our time, and, indeed, one of the most influential.

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Review:

Birthday is Alan Sillitoe's eagerly awaited sequel to his classic novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, first published in 1958. The novel transformed post-war English fiction, and gave a new voice to working-class masculinity of the 1950s. In Birthday, Sillitoe returns to the Nottinghamshire of his earlier novel, to explore what happened to the original characters.

Brian Seaton returns to the town of his birth to visit his childhood sweetheart's 70th birthday party, and to see his roguish brother, Arthur. The result is an extremely elegiac, downbeat novel, as Brian and his brother flit between their ageing present and vibrant past. Brian, now a successful scriptwriter based in London, visits his old haunts, reflecting that "no matter how changed, it was an area in which he had no need of maps. Everything was in the past, but an event could leap to mind with such intensity it might have happened in the last five minutes". It is this tone that pervades Birthday. Very little actually happens in the novel, as Brian and Arthur travel around the area, coming to terms with disappointments, disillusions and the now ailing characters that made sense of their younger lives. The story is loosely structured around Brian's tortuous relationship with Jenny, trapped in a marriage to a crippled ex-steelworker. But as the novel progresses, he realises that "they were in love with the past rather than each other".

Birthday is a poignant but very low-key evocation of a world that has been lost forever. It will appeal to those who found Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning a breath of fresh air, but others may question the wisdom of a sequel over 40 years on. --Jerry Brotton

Review:

‘Sillitoe remains the most physical of writers, spontaneous of language yet resolutely protective of its values. Sharing common territory with the late novels of Kingsley Amis, “Birthday” represents a carefully textured work by an old devil, still spiky after all these years.’ Independent

‘A beautifully crafted and perceptive work.’ Daily Express

‘Many people will certainly be in tune with the Seatons’ stoically nostalgic outlook, and the occasional flash of recognition that the present may not be as bleak as it is painted, and the past not as golden. Sillitoe does not make the process of growing old look particularly enjoyable, but he logs the details – the day-to-day difficulties; the growing isolation; the dying friends and family, slowly but surely removed from an ever-decreasing social circle – with a devastatingly accurate eye. Sillitoe’s insight is acute.’ Scotland on Sunday

‘There are parallels here with Kingsley Amis’s “The Old Devils” – another old man’s book about old age. But it is well worth reading, both for its evocation of a vanished way of working-class life, and for its steadfast depiction of the horrors of old age and the valour and comradeship that can, in part at least, redeem it.’ Daily Telegraph

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Sillitoe, Alan
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