For some reason, I got conned into a NetGalley
subscription (membership?). Well, not really "conned" actually, one of my friends mentioned it and I checked it out and thought, "why not?" So, in some instances, apparently, they'll give me an advance copy of a book in return for my promising to review it. And so I have (read it), and so I shall (review it).
This book is a collection of nine short stories. The title comes from the title of the first story, which might be more considered to be a novelette (7500–17,500 words)
—this story was about 17,000 words based on an estimate of ~25 words per "position" in a kindle e-Book). It is roughly two to four times longer than any of the other eight stories in the collection. This collection of stories was originally published in 1959. The current edition was re-issued in April 2016 [i.e. shortly before I get this review up].
I've long had a fascination for long-distance runners. I remember fondly reading about Roger Bannister's breaking the 4-minute mile when I was in junior high school. Then, in college, the movie, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
came out, and we all hustled down to see it. As I recall I was rather enamored with the film. My room mate was a runner who set our school's half-mile record (broken by someone else before we graduated). Although I'd long been intrigued by distance running, I didn't actually take up running myself until I was 31 (unless you count my humiliation at cross country in 11th grade when I was the second-to-worst runner on the JV-B squad. To be fair, we were the JB-B county champions). I did get into it, however and, for a time, had regular 10-mile runs before breakfast three times a week. I even completed a marathon in under four hours. Now, I can barely lumber through 3+ mile runs three days a week, including many short breaks while my furry companion sniffs here and there, seeking out dead animals with which she can perfume herself. So, anyway, I do know first hand about the loneliness of the long distance runner. There is none. We're at home with our thoughts and free.
Anyway, I've a history, or sorts, with long distance running and with the actual subject matter of this book. To be fair, however, I can't say that in reading this book that I remember much from the movie I saw some fifty years ago. So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to snag this book from Net Galley.
The Novelette is well written and quite good. Basically, it deals with a young delinquent who was sent off to Borstal
, or as we Yanks might term it, reform school. He has a talent for running. The powers that be have high hopes that he might win a school prize for "them". Much of the story then, consists of the young delinquent's thoughts during his early morning training runs, what he sees and feels, but more importantly, how he views "the Governor" and his cohorts and whether or not he'll ever come to "heel" just to please them. It's really a quite fascinating look into the mind of a young working-class kid.
The other stories in this volume are similar in that they deal with the lives of the working class, sometimes delinquents and sometimes just the downtrodden. We get to know something about the lives of the unglamorous: A lonely, old man who befriends two young girls in a snack shop; A school teacher living in a fantasy world populated by the young women he sees in the shop window across the street; An estranged couple visiting off and on over an old picture that used to hang in their house, "the last of the fleet"; Two boys with little money between them trying to crash carnival rides; A young man's attempt to escape his smothering mother; Two men at a "football" match (soccer to us Yanks), one newly married, one more interested in football than his own marriage. And so on. It's all quite fascinating.
The book ends with a short biography of the author, Alan Sillitoe, written by Ruth Fainlight, his long-time companion and spouse.
I'm not generally one to read short stories. I like the longer glimpses into peoples' lives that I get inside a good novel. But the stories in this volume were well worth the diversion from my norm. Thank you Net Galley.