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Friday, March 25, 2016

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner(1959) by Alan Sillitoe

Nottingham, Sillitoe's muse
Book Review
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner(1959)
by Alan Sillitoe

by Open Road Integrated Media
Release date April 16th, 2016
Amazon purchase page

    Even though the title story, and best known story, of this short story collection by Alan Sillitoe is set in an English Borstal set in the country side, every other story is set in Nottingham.  Nottingham was Sillitoe's muse, and the development of regional English fiction is one of the major developments in English literature during the 20th century, so in that regard The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a critical text.

  The characters are marginal members of society, at best there are primary school teachers, at worst, drunken football fans who beat their wife after a tough loss at the pitch, old upholsterers plying young girls with money and treats out of sheer desperate loneliness, and a variety of variations on the working class factory worker.

   Nottingham has never captured the world imagination in the way of Manchester, their neighbor to the West.  I'm sure if Sillitoe was from Manchester and not Nottingham he would have a higher international profile. Here, he's mostly associated with the movie version of the title story, release in 1962.  That story, about a youthful offender who has been recruited to run long distance in some kind of intra prison race, most obviously evokes Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan, published in 1958.  At the same time the narrative format, a stream of consciousness occurring entirely inside the head of the runner  for most of the story, evokes Joyce and other early 20th century modernists.

  The other stories are more conventional, and they range from the truly dark (a young boy watches, and tries to help a neighbor commit suicide) to the merely sad (a man separates from his wife and she eventually returns to his wife to beg money from him.) to the troubling (a lonely man is accused of being pedophile because he strikes up a friendship with two young girls at a cafe.)

  For fans of English fiction, this volume is a must.  For people who are in to other kinds of 20th century realism, novels or films, this collection of short stories is a touchstone in terms of it's influence on subsequent artists.

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