The book starts in a very unassuming way, over the first couple of chapters it sets the scene of war time family life in a rural pit village. It explores aspects of class, equality and family life.
The Saville’s are a family of pit workers.
The protagonist, Colin Saville, manages to get a scholarship place at the grammar school the working class background of Saville becomes more apparent – a stark contrast to the boys from wealthier families at the school and the assumption of having money to spend at will. At this point Colin’s fiercely proud father is mocked, unknowingly, for spelling the family name inconsistently on Colin’s school documents leading to his school master giving him the nickname ‘Saville two ‘l’s’ on the first day and questioning his occupation to highlight the lack of status that comes with being a coal miner to the rest of the class.
The story follows Saville and his family from before he’s born through to his life as an adult and the ongoing challenges of family life and the changes of the fortunes of the families on their street in the village as the world progresses.
I found this novel easy to read (for a Booker winner!) and you feel a sense of empathy with a number of the characters at different points in the book, whilst the frustrations the Saville’s face seem unsurmountable to them it felt like a true portrayal of a family life.
“If they left wars to women they’d be over in half the time. Perhaps even less.”
“You’ve come from nowhere: They’ve put the carrot of education in front of you and you go at it like a maddened bull.”