A Fine Vintage: Saville by David Storey

on Thursday, July 15, 2010
For the past seven or so years I have made a habit of reading the entire Booker Prize long list. Before that, since about 1998, I limited myself to as much of the shortlist as possible and, if I hadn't already read it come announcement time, the winner. Occasionally I will go so far as to place a little wager on the outcome although I have yet to hit paydirt (thanks a lot Anne Enright). Point is, I know my Booker Prize. Indeed, I often suffer for the Booker Prize. And yet when I got to compiling my list for this month's challenge, I was a little surprised to find that I'd never heard of the 1976 winner, Saville by David Storey. It has long been out of print, and probably only saw the light of day again thanks to the strange Booker renaissance brought about by the prize's 40th anniversary last year. I therefore didn't have to search for it on Abebooks as I expected I would, but rather was able to waltz into Waterstones in Piccadilly and grab a fresh new copy. It was big. And grey. Not a promising start. From the blurb I gathered it was a working class epic of the wholly British variety. Oy vey. Well, a promise is a promise, even when made to oneself and so I reluctantly sat myself down and started to read.

Now those who know me would agree that I very rarely admit that I'm wrong, but when it comes to this book I was wrong. Spectacularly so. The Booker panels have made many a crap call over the years but this certainly was not one of them. The story of Colin Saville, the son of a coal miner who struggles to rise above his class disadvantage is one of the best books I've read in the last few years. Its emotional power is staggering, yet it never goes for the easy tug on the heartstring. Storey manages to weave the tale with an air of quiet dignity, which washes over and gives a kind grace to the book despite the mounting injustices visited upon young Colin. From his parents' touching attempts to maintain their pride and instil in their son a sense of worth to Colin's own can-do optimism in the face of many a slap in the face (mostly dished out unwittingly by the well-to-do Nigel Stafford who is Colin's friend and means him no harm), Saville quite simply made me feel good about the world. Storey, who was also a celebrated playwright, had a seductively simple style - a poet of the everyday writing a story of the everyman - and in Colin Saville found the perfect vehicle to get across a message of basic, yet universal, humaneness. Put simply, Saville is Dickens for the post-War slump.

Although it slightly grosses me out to think of it, I am glad my parents thought the Autumn of 1975 was a good time to get frisky, if only so thirty four years later I could be directed to reading a true forgotten classic that I would otherwise never have discovered. Please, I implore you to find and read this book.


Post a Comment