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Sunday 30 June 2019

Review - Stan Barstow: A Kind of Loving

Stan Barstow
A Kind of Loving (4*)

Continuing to catch up on books I wish I’d read at twenty, A Kind of Loving captures the young northern working-class generation around ten or fifteen years older than me, aged twenty in the late nineteen-fifties. I think of my uncle getting washed at my grandma’s kitchen sink (the only water in the house), putting on a clean shirt and brushing back his thick dark hair, all spruced up, ready to catch the bus for a Saturday night out on the town in Goole.

"I hope you’re not running after women,” my dad once teased him. “I don’t have to,” he answered back, “they run after me.”

Vic Brown is twenty and a bright lad. He is a draughtsman with a local engineering firm in a Yorkshire mining town. He also works on Saturdays in a record and electrical shop just as the consumer boom is taking off, and subsequently, with the promise of a partnership, moves there full-time. He goes to dance halls, pubs and cinemas. He takes pride in his appearance, wearing sharp suits and ties and visiting the barbers every two weeks: virtues that were scoffed at just a few years later.

Vic desperately fancies Ingrid Rothwell, a classy typist with the same firm, and gets off with her, except things are not right. He is grammar-school working-class with sophisticated tastes. She is not as well educated but lower-middle-class with popular tastes. She irritates him with her lowbrow gossip. When Ingrid becomes pregnant they have to get married. They go to live with Ingrid’s dragon-mother who constantly criticises Vic. The story accelerates to a soap-opera-ish conclusion involving a miscarriage and an almighty row after which Vic and Ingrid work out a way to move forward together: a kind of loving.

Vic tells his story in a monologue in the present historic tense (e.g. I’m walking down the High Street when I see someone coming towards me) that runs all the way through the book, immersing you in an immediacy and realism that keeps the pages turning. The contextual detail is wonderful. It is also of its time (first published 1960): mildly sexist and even racist, but that is how things were. It put me right back in the West Yorkshire manufacturing firms and other businesses we audited at the end of the sixties, still much the same. One of them was an Ossett engineering company very like the one where the author Stan Barstow worked in the drawing office after leaving school. He was writing about a world he knew and doing it well.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

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  1. A companion book telling the same story from Ingrid's point of view would be interesting too.

    1. It would indeed and there were writers like Nell Dunn and Shelagh Delaney writing working class stories from a female viewpoint at that time. Most would now rightly rip into Vic's attitudes (some have even gone as far as attributing them to all male authors of the period) but I am of the opinion that both men and women were limited by class (at least in Britain) and I'm glad to have been born just late enough to escape it.


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