A kind of writing

A belated attempt to catch up on some of my literary heritage brought me to my mum’s battered old copy of Stan Barstow’s 1960 novel A Kind of Loving, which the blurb on the back claims is ‘told in the racy vernacular of the West Riding of Yorkshire’ – it’s a first person narrative, from the point of view of a twenty year old man in the late 1950s. There’s not too much in the way of trying to spell the accent, thankfully, he mainly uses the rhythm of speech, phrase patterns and dialect (there were a couple of words I didn’t recognise, but it’s not like you can look them up in a dictionary). The main thing that irritated me is that for a while he seemed to be deliberately trying to use a different slang word for ‘girl’ in every sentence.

The book gets off to a slow start, with long descriptions of the people and places in Vic Brown’s life, and a lot of dialogue which was fun to read and true to life (I recognised a few relatives and old neighbours of mine at Vic’s sister’s wedding) but not much to do with the story, or even essential to the background. All this dialogue, like the hundred and one words for ‘girl’, seemed self-indulgent; he’d put it in because he could, and because he wanted to show us that he’d captured his surroundings accurately. The characters are well-rounded shades of grey rather than straightforwardly good or bad, and Vic particularly was well-drawn and believable.

Once the story gets going, of Vic’s on-off relationship with Ingrid, his changing view of his newly-married sister, run-ins with Ingrid’s manipulative mother and restlessness at work, it’s well-paced and draws you along to the end. The book was made into a film quite early on (which I’ve never seen so I don’t know how closely they’re related), and I would say that if you enjoyed films like that, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, or even Alfie (the original, obviously) then this book might be right up your street.

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