Saville by David Storey #BookerPrize [Review]
Dull, dreary, dire. I reached the end of David Storey’s Booker Prize winning novel Saville yesterday with a sense of relief that my evenings would no longer be marred by having to plod through this tedious tale. And what a plod it was – 500 or so pages of over-written scenes, mediocre dialogue, scrappy characterisation and a characterless protagonist. The best part was the opening few scenes when a miner and his new wife arrive in some northern colliery- town and spend the day cleaning their meagre little home. After that it was downhill all the way.
The Savilles have a son who is a bit of a strange fish but he dies not far into the novel. Their second son Colin manages to win a scholarship for grammar school; plays sport, has a few run ins with the teacher and meets a few girls. Instead of university he opts for the faster track of teacher training so he can begin earning some money to keep his parents and two brothers just above the poverty line. But he feels constrained by his home and his upbringing; taking his frustrations out on his siblings.
By the time he decides what to do with his life, we’re at the end of the book and by then – frankly – I simply didn’t care. Colin Saville just isn’t portrayed in a way that makes me want to take any interest. There’s never any sense of the inner turmoil he supposedly feels in reaction to some of the events that happen to him. Even when his fiancé ditches him for a more wealthy friend, he seems to react as if someone has just told him the number 6 bus left 30 minutes ago. Having the story relayed through an omniscient narrator doesn’t help. But I also just kept waiting for something – anything – to happen that would lift the story from the realms of the mediocre. I was still waiting when I reached the end. If ever there was a book that needed a bit fat blue editor’s pencil to walk all over it, this one was it…..even a scene that according to James Campbell in the Guardian is one of the most memorable (when his friend Stafford visits his home and is treated to a tea of bread, butter and tinned fruit) felt over-written.
How Saville won the Booker Prize in 1976, I therefore can’t imagine. According to one retrospective critical review, Storey’s work mixes realism with psychological extremism. I must have been asleep during those chapters in that case.
Footnote – added February 2017
I read Saville as part of my Booker Prize Project in which I am trying to read all the winners since the prize was initiated in 1969. You can view the books read to date and some of the longlisted/shortlisted titles I’ve also read by looking at the Project page.
Saville is – to date – one of the poorest prize winners I’ve read. Not the absolute worst which I didn’t even finish but certainly in the bottom five.