Review of A Start in Life



A Start in Life by Alan Silitoe

Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media

Re-Publication Date: August 9, 2016


We will call this: Alan Silitoe revisited.

Back in June, I reviewed Snowstop by Alan Silitoe. (See my review here.) It was pretty much a murder mystery, with what seemed to be commentary on class struggle in England.

A Start in Life, written 23 years earlier, is a different and more engaging novel although, again, I struggled with the opening passages.

Unlike Snowstop, which centered around multiple characters and points of view, A Start in Life, is a first person narrative from the point of view of Michael Cullen, a “bastard” although if one were to call him that one would find oneself fully throttled.

We come to learn that Michael’s mother is extremely friendly with men and that sometimes he is foisted to the side; he adores his mother, however, and wants to be the center of her attention. He is also the center of attention of his beloved grandmother and grandfather.

Yet, Michael is more than a little on the wicked side. He steals things. In one instance he brings the goods back for his family to enjoy, but gets caught. His grandfather smacks him about the head with the unexpected warning: “don’t get caught.”

That’s a prevailing theme that Michael is not very good at living up to.

The initial narrative follows Michael from a child to an adult. I was not enamored with much of the beginning of the novel. To be honest, I was not enamored with Michael, which you almost have to be in order to continue. But, as you may know if you’ve followed my reviews, I hate DNFs. They are a last resort. I plodded on. And, was rewarded.

I am unsure whether it was the style of the day or if Silitoe was experimenting, but with each character that Michael encountered they would provide their life story, almost like a three page Canterbury Tale bit, in nonstop monologue, which did not ingratiate me to the novel. If you get beyond this initial set-up, I promise you will be rewarded.

Once Michael is in London and the intrigue begins, the story picks up. I found myself thoroughly engrossed. While I was not totally “liking” Michael, I was captivated by his plight. I think I was supposed to feel that Michael was “smart” but I never felt that. He is, what I believe they call a “callow youth.” He thinks he is being smart, but he does dumb, impetuous things.

There are some wonderfully humorous passages and some philosophical poetic bits, but I just suffered from “stupid tablet malfunction” also known as one kindle app and one kindle for Samsung app not being happy when one or the other is opened and I lost my annotations that I wanted to share. (Insert big fat sad face.)

Alas, I am not a fan of Michael, although there were times when he frequently showed kindness and a big heart despite his obvious greed and to steal from Stephen Stills, his constant “love the one you’re with” mentality. The story swept me in. I found that I really did care what happened.

The idiosyncratic telling of this story may be forbidding for some readers. However, if you enjoy literary novels and are intrigued by a man, who, much to his dismay, was considered one of the Angry Young Men of British literature, I think you will enjoy this novel.

I was provided with an ARC by Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

rating: butterflybutterflybutterflybutterfly (4 out of 5 butterflies)


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