British novelist Alan Sillitoe “powerfully depicted revolt against authority by the young and working class” in his best-known works of fiction (The Washington Post). Both The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning were international bestsellers and made into acclaimed films. The prolific, award-winning author wrote over fifty books, including the three novels collected in this volume: a hard-won love story, a father-son tale of love and war, and a dystopian satire.
Her Victory: Finally leaving her brutish husband, Pam flees to London, where she takes refuge in a lonely, sparsely furnished room. With a twist of the wrist, she turns on the gas and resigns herself to death, only to be saved by a neighbor, Tom, a former sailor in the Merchant Navy, who carries scars of his own. Both fighting despair, these two unlikely lovers attempt to begin a new life together and find a reason to go on.
“Engrossing . . . Interesting and affecting.” —The New York Times
The Widower’s Son: Leaving the coal mines for the army, Charlie Scorton never looked back. After his wife died, the career military man raised his son to be a soldier as well. Like his father, William finds a home in the army, performing heroically at Dunkirk. But soon he will be forced to answer the question his father never could: What does a soldier do when war is over?
“Earnest, tenacious . . . Sillitoe retains his commendable honesty.” —Kirkus Reviews
Travels in Nihilon: In Sillitoe’s biting satirical novel, Nihilon is a country where honesty is outlawed, drunk driving is mandatory, and nihilism reigns supreme. Five researchers are sent into the midst of this chaos to compile a new guidebook about the peculiar, unexplored land and its all-powerful leader, President Nil. They arrive as tourists, but they’ll soon find out it’s a lot easier to enter Nihilon than it is to escape.
“Diabolically witty.” —The New York Times
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About the Author
Alan Sillitoe (1928–2010) was a British novelist, poet, essayist, and playwright, known for his honest, humorous, and acerbic accounts of working-class life. Sillitoe served four years in the Royal Air Force and lived for six years in France and Spain, before returning to England. His first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, was published in 1958 and was followed by a collection of short stories, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, which won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature. With over fifty volumes to his name, Sillitoe was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997.
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'What are you trying to climb into the freezer for?' George wanted to know.
A plastic orange gift-cannon of the Napoleonic type fell out of the cereal box and pointed its muzzle at his forehead. Such an omen, from behind a barricade of cornflakes, indicated the sort of week coming up that he could well do without. When he glanced at rain clouds forming beyond the half-steamed window there was no mistaking the picture of Monday morning. Yet even that was an advantage, because his habit was to leave the house earlier than on other days. He might therefore have thought it the best time of the week if he hadn't, on coming downstairs, seen his wife Pam wearing a bright green blouse, a dull beige cardigan which she had knitted the previous winter, and a crimson skirt from the New Year's sales. Such colours spun against his retina like a mad woman's rainbow.
'Well, what for, then? The bloody freezer?'
Every morning for years she had decided to leave him, but this autumn dawn was different because he had never accused her of climbing into the freezer before, when she was only trying to clean it out. There were times when his sense of humour defeated him and, being shocked, he could only sound like the bulldozing swine he had always been. She said: 'It gets too hot in this kitchen.'
He scattered white sugar over the cornflakes with his dessert spoon, then picked up the cannon and hurled it across the room into the sink. Crackshot. It floated in a bowl of water. 'If you open a window, there'll be a draught. I only got rid of my cold last week.'
Can't you see I'm dying?
Aren't we all? he'd said once too often.
They had been married long enough for him to know that he must rehearse every phrase before speaking, but he had never been able to live up to the high expectations he had set for himself. Nor had it been possible for him to exist under those she had no doubt proposed for herself. 'Remember how long we shopped around for such a good quality freezer? I'll never be able to use it again if you do yourself in in it.'
Airtight plastic bags of peas and beans; kilner jars of blackberries collected from the purlieus of Sherwood Forest; breast of mutton; a length of chops like the red and white keys of some fantastic piano which he had brought home in his car from the cutprice wholesaler downtown; yoghourt-containers of soup and squash; portions of carrots; packets of sausages and kidney; all lay scattered around, extracted piecemeal, he assumed, so as to make room for herself. She had only taken everything out in order to defrost and clean. He laughed when she told him. 'Try gas, then. Or pills.'
He got on well with his workmen, his humour sufficiently earthy and loudmouthed to keep them conscientious, even these days. He'd been in their place himself, and knew every dodge in the book. He also paid above the union rate. 'Give 'em money, and they'll work. And if they work, my profits rise. It's as simple as that.'
It was hard for him to talk without boasting, but at such devastation he could hardly speak: 'And what about all that grub? Think of the trouble we took. It'll go rotten if you don't put it back, sharp.' Terror sparkled in his eyes. If he made what he thought she was attempting to do sound funny perhaps she would stop getting her legs into the freezer-chest, and come back to the table.
She was trying to do no such thing, but before he could say more she glared: 'You're supposed to put me off doing it.'
To laugh was better for his pride than crying. 'Am I?'
'You're my husband. Or have you forgotten?'
She was going too far back in time. Pushing by to get milk from the refrigerator, he pressed a firm hand on her shoulder to show that he owned her absolutely, and said sorrowfully: 'What would be the point in trying to stop you, you see, if you're so dead set on it?'
Ice gripped at the heart. Her purpose had been to clean the freezer, and check what was inside. 'It's stupid of you to try and drive me mad. You know very well I'm not that sort of person.'
'How the bloody hell do you expect me to know a thing like that?'
He wasn't as calm as he looked. A man who prided himself on his sense of humour was always quick to lose his poise. She finished cleaning the freezer, and began to put things back, though it made no difference: 'You were trying to stuff yourself in the ice-chest. I'm not blind. But I do wish you'd make up your puny little mind about it.'
She closed the lid quietly and sat on the kitchen stool to face him across the table. She was one skip ahead, but he wouldn't realize it until whatever happened had passed him by. 'I suppose you would like me to kill myself.'
'Think of Teddy.' He was enjoying his favourite breakfast. 'If you kick the bucket, there'll only be me to look after the poor little sod.'
'He's eighteen. And he's at college.'
'Thought it was quiet this morning. He's usually got that jungle-band on his hi-fi bursting our eardrums. When'd he go back?'
'Last night. He was glad to get away. Remember?'
Milk splashed on to the table. 'Of course I bloody well do.'
'There's no need to swear.'
'Oh, but there is. There always bloody was. Teddy's old enough to look after himself now.'
She was happy about that. Her tears were falling. 'I've never known anyone as dense and selfish as you.'
'I sometimes think you've never known anybody at all.' He could be even more cutting when he didn't try to be funny. There had been a time when she had known everything about him, but that was when there hadn't been very much to know, or when she wasn't sufficiently acute to see what was there. But now he seemed a stranger with whom she didn't want to become familiar. She wondered whether he didn't think the same about her, and decided it wouldn't much matter. It was best that nothing ever again mattered between them. She finished putting food back into the freezer.
He lifted the spoon to his mouth, always at his most specific when she tried to make amends: 'You bitch.'
She was hardly audible. 'Am I?'
'You're making my life a misery.' What was the use holding back if she was going to do herself in? You might as well tell her everything you'd always thought but not said for fear of hurting her, before she did kill herself, because if she happened to pull it off you might not get another opportunity.
She imagined such words ticker-taping into his brain, which made it more difficult to detach herself. 'I don't particularly want to know anybody.'
His face showed pain, as if he regretted his words. 'In my plain old view you aren't realistic in the way you look at the world.' His smile was kindly, till he shouted: 'But you're right when you say I'm selfish, if that's what it is. God knows, I realize I'm not perfect. Nobody is, are they? To be selfish is the only way I know to save you from yourself. If I slobbered all over you, and kissed your shoes, pleading for you not to kill yourself, you would do it, out of spite, just so's I'd have to take a few days off work. But you'll never do it when you know I don't give a damn whether you do it or not, will you? Will you, then?'
He was asking her. How much proof did he want? But would she really do it? Maybe he was right, because who would kill herself for him? Trust him to think she would do it for him instead of for herself. Not only did he consider himself to be the centre of the world, but he still thought the earth was flat.
He was reasonably tearful. 'But I do care, anyway.'
So much speaking before midday undermined his self-confidence, and made him sweat. If he were late for work he would never forgive himself. He hardly ever said anything at breakfast, and neither did she. He awoke from sleep as if he were recovering from a dose of poison that hadn't been quite fatal. God knows what he dreamt. On once asking, he answered proudly that he didn't, and never had. He slept like a stone that water dripped on, a torment he was only vaguely aware of on waking up, which made his temper so vile that it was best, they had long since agreed, if neither spoke.
Button-lips, he told himself, was the order of the day. Everything he thought, she spoke usually before he had any notion of saying it. Internal and disputatious life was blocked off. He wanted to make her feel deficient about not properly caring for him, so put on the usual mask of a little boy who had been abandoned by all the supports he had grown accustomed to, the real face underneath surfacing only to indicate that he hadn't had many good things to get used to in his hardworking life anyway. He wasn't aware of this, she felt, so the toll it took of him drained the life out of her.
'I think you've got to have a bit of selfishness to get through life,' she said, still wondering whether she would leave him today.
Her clear statement surprised him. 'Selfishness is next to godlessness,' he retorted and, in the same breath: 'Fry my eggs and bacon, duck. I've got to be going soon.'
'Why don't you leave me alone?' Her request came from the misery of a greater plea that she hadn't been able to make, because to do so would give her even more into his mercy. She tried to see him as if for the first time, hoping not to be so strident in her conclusions. For reasons of self-preservation she adopted the obvious rather than the speculative, seeing a man of five feet six inches in height, and solid like a barrel, with muscular arms and big hands. When he walked, the world made way, especially in his own small factory where twenty workmen at lathes and milling machines turned out precision parts which could not yet be mass produced. He went to work in a boiler-suit to prove he was one of the men, but she had to make sure that a clean one was laid over the stair rail every morning for him to get into. When he stood before a machine to do a special piece of engineering that couldn't be trusted to anyone else, his underlip pushed out in intense concentration, he kept his shirtsleeves rolled down so that a pair of gold cufflinks glittered.
He stood, and leaned towards her. Plain, incontrovertible statements upset him most, as well as the simple pleas which he never had the generous pleasure of acceding to because she only made them after he had already ridden rough- shod over her.
She had never seen him so angry, probably because he hadn't been properly frightened before. 'What, for God's sake, is wrong with asking you to fry my breakfast? How can such a natural request be seen as "getting at you"?'
'That's all you've lived for ever since we met,' she heard herself shouting.
He methodically laid strips of bacon on the grill, and cracked two eggs into the smoking lard. 'In the final analysis,' he called over his shoulder.
When, she wondered, had there been a first analysis? She didn't know what sort of wife he'd be happy with, because it was impossible to decide what kind of woman he himself was capable of making in any way content. It wasn't her. No more of that. The serrated breadknife on the table was not to be resisted. Didn't like it here.
The dazzling backplate of the electric cooker showed what he thought of as the last horror. He turned as the knife spun towards his throat.
She remembered everything as having taken place in silence, though it was conceivable that the neighbours heard the combination of shriek and bellow that came from him. The inner noise of bitter rage which forced her to spring was fit to burst all panes of glass in the house.
In spite of her speed and the spin of the weapon, he parried the thrust with an ease that astonished her. A hand made a painful chop at her elbow and sent the knife across the room. Clenched into a fist, his other hand struck her face, pushing her back and half stunning her at the same time.
She discovered, now that it was too late, that to be violent was to be kind to him. Such a life-and-death attempt was far less disturbing than when she had asked him simply to let her alone, action of any sort being the only form of reconciliation that he could understand. The truth was, he didn't want her to kill herself, or to leave home. Though she had never expressed to him her hope of one day doing so, he sensed the possibility so strongly that he liked to taunt her with the idea.
The bout was over before the bacon scorched. He sat down hungrily, though he wasn't altogether happy, in spite of eating the rind as well, because he was the sort of man who knew that whenever things looked like getting better, they got worse. He was no simpleton, and had built up his business by driving himself more intensely during the good times than in the bad. Her resort to violence seemed a hint that he ought now to relax his continual craving for work and take her out for the day, but as he sated his appetite, the conflict took on another aspect, in that he could afford to feel cheerful now that she had tried to kill him and failed. There weren't many men who'd had that to put up with before breakfast.
She couldn't live any more with the kind of person who made her pay for everything before she'd had time to enjoy what he occasionally led her to expect and never gave her. He felt it, too, and being disappointed in himself turned into a bully, which made him babyish. During twenty years she had been so busy learning about him that she had learned nothing of herself, except that much of what she had taken in concerning his character had bitten so painfully that it had become part of her. She resented such gains at the price of her soul, that had pushed her own self out of the way till she often didn't know who she was when in the same room with him, and she was never away from him long enough to begin finding out. She didn't even know who she was when she was alone, which was worse because it frightened her into believing that her memory was failing as well.
His knees were trembling, but he took his plate to the sink by walking side- on. 'Cheer up, love! See you tonight. I'll try not to be late.'
He didn't know what was wrong, so she felt that whatever wasn't right between them could only be her fault. His eyebrows lifted, an unfailing mannerism: 'No talkie-talkie this morning? It's not that bad, Pam, is it?' He winked: 'Just think how lucky you are. You haven't got cancer, have you? If not, then you've nothing to worry about.'
'Goodbye,' she said flatly.
'You've got good clothes on your back. You aren't starving. You aren't being dive-bombed, are you? Well then, you should be grateful for it.'
'Oh, I know,' she said. 'I thank God for every breath I take.'
He smiled because he'd won. 'That's better!'
The only victory is in being alive, she thought, when he went whistling out of the door. She didn't believe any good would come of giving her meagre victory to him by killing herself. Pulling the living-room curtains aside, she watched him drive on to the street. He rolled the car window down and waved. She gestured back to make sure he went away happy enough to work well and make more money, which was all he wanted out of life. He left her as usual to close the garage door when she went shopping. Steely-edged rain clouds filled the sky, drops already spitting at the privet.CHAPTER 2
A bottle of Golden Miracle Skin Lotion, a tin of Super-Quick Hair Eradicator, a flask of Nutritious Fast-Working Pore Food, and a jar of the most efficient Blemish Flattener that science had so far been able to concoct, broke and scattered under the hammer. A fragment of cream-coated glass hit the dressing- table mirror, and she stopped before the next swing because it seemed that her elbow was about to crumble. Blows from everywhere crossed her heart.
In all justice she had to thank George for having such a wide range of hammers. He could never resist a nice-looking red-handled claw hammer set in a row of diminishing sizes in a shop window. He had to go in and get one. If the income tax had really wanted to know how rich he was they'd have to weigh him in hammers like the Aga Khan in gold. There were probably enough in his tool shed and factory for both of them.
She threw the hammer on the bed, and put a few tubes and lipsticks into her case, then sent the rest of the trash over the carpet so that he would know something had altered in his life when he found the garage door open and the house empty.
She pulled sensible blouses, skirts and dresses out of the wardrobe, folding them into her case. Early risers have plenty of time, so she lit a cigarette, and thought of igniting what couldn't be taken. A few drops of paraffin and up it would go. 'I don't hate myself that much,' she decided, 'so I won't do it,' having to speak her decisions before being able to follow them with action. The thought of such a fire scorched her hands and face, and she stood back from the bed a few moments, rubbing her palms together. Then she took tights, pants, vests, bras and stockings, handkerchiefs already folded, and packed them in neatly, but lifted everything out again to lay shoes on the bottom, and fit in two of the heaviest sweaters.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Collected Novels Volume One"
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