Review: Holiday by Stanley Middleton

holidayEver heard of Stanley Middleton? No neither had I until I started reading my way through the list of Man Booker Prize winners. He published more than 40 novels and won the Booker in 1974 with Holiday but you’d be hard pressed to find any of his books on the shelves of your local bookstore. Had it not been for the Booker prize he would simply have faded into obscurity and I would have missed a treat of a novel.

Holiday isn’t one of those books full of action or big dramatic moments. But to dismiss it on the basis that it’s a book in which nothing much happens, is unfair. The action is all inside the head of the main character,  Edwin Fisher, a university professor who takes a spur of the moment holiday at the seaside. It’s the same resort he visited year after year as a child when his parents took him for their annual holiday.

Recollections of those, not always happy, days mingle with more recent and more bitter memories of his wife from whom he has recently separated. All this is revealed in snatches as Fisher has mooches about on the promenade, sits in full clothing on a beach deckchair watching young girls sun bathing and buying them ice-cream (behaviour that today would render him more than a little suspicious), has some stilted conversations with fellow guests in an old-fashioned B&B and meets his father-in-law a few times when the latter wants to effect a reconciliation between the estranged pair. And then the holiday is over — I won’t spoil this for other readers by explaining what happens to Fisher but just don’t expect any sudden revelations or denouments.

Fisher doesn’t come across as a very likeable man initially. He feels superior to his fellow holidaymakers and is contemptuous of his father’s narrow, working class attitudes but we also sense that there is a vulnerability behind the hard exterior he shows to the world.  The memories from the past and recollections of his relationship with his wife that occur at different points during his holiday, help him to understand where his marriage went wrong and the changes he needs to make in his behaviour and attitudes in the future.

There are many finely observed scenes in this novel. Middleton does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the type of seaside holiday that was in decline by the 1980s with the advent of the cheap package holiday to Spain. And he does make Fisher more of a sympathetic figure as the novel progresses and we see the complexity of his nature. He struck me as rather a lonely figure for all his bonhomie with fellow guests and how he seemed to be more of an observer of life rather than a participant.

Verdict

A well observed study of character and reflections on love, marriage and death told in a style that doesn’t contain many flourishes but has the strength of authenticity. According to some articles written on his death in 2009, Holiday was not actually his best work so I’ll look forward to reading other books by him if I can track them down.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 18, 2014, in Book Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. A few years back Sam Jordison of the Guardian (and now also of Galley Beggar Books) did a column where he read past Booker winners. This was his big find. He hadn’t heard of Stanley Middleton, wouldn’t have picked up the book if he hadn’t been writing the column, and then spent the column talking about how much he loved the book and how remarkable it was that it had slipped from view.

    It’s been on my radar since, and here you are saying essentially the same thing. It is curious how some books so plainly deserving can yet be forgotten, while others often less meritorious somehow achieve fame.

    Anyway, thanks for the review as it reminds me to try this myself. It sounds small and quiet and well done, and that’s difficult to pull off but rewarding since much of life is small and quiet – there are those who live constantly in a whirlwind of drama, but most I think find that rather fatiguing.

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  2. I picked up a copy of this in a charity shop some time ago, but haven’t been inspired to read it – I’m glad to hear that it was worth reading, and I like the sound of the ‘authenticity’.

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  3. I’ve heard of him only because of the Booker Prize, and I haven’t seen any of his works in our book stores. I hope to find a copy of this because you make it seem interesting to me.

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  4. I have wanted to read this for years, but you are right I don’t think I have ever seen his books in the shops.

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  5. It’s a funny idea, isn’t it, that someone might have (as we’re all supposed to) just one novel in them, but that that novel might be a Booker winner?

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    • I have ideas for a novel and got very enthusiastic about it some years ago only to discover that I lacked the scientific knowledge to make it sound credible….So someone else clearly has two novels in them if I don;t have any

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  6. I’ve never heard of him either. Goodness knows how many writers there are out there like Middleton. Nice to unearth a gem though.

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