Set in the north of England at the turn of the century, this novel focuses on the lives and times of the people who lived there, describing the suffering of the miners and the advent of World War I.
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©1935 AJ Cronin (P)2010 RNIB
I'll be honest, I bought this book because it was so cheap I thought it must be a mistake. I've bought some for full price I hated so figured I couldn't go wrong. It was a good choice as I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
This book was written in 1935 and is about the lives of coal miners. It covers the time period just before WWI and ends sometime before WWII. There are 3 main characters, two who begin as coal miners and the other the son of the mine owner. Their lives are all dramatically changed by the end of the story.
The narrator does well, except you can hear the paper rustling from his text. Additionally, some of the accents are so realistic it is difficult to understand much of what was said.
This is one of A.J. Cronin's classic early works, describing the lives of miners in northern England. Long, but deeply interesting, even though it tells of a period [1909 to mid 1930's] which seems remote to us now. Coal mining, although very changed since then, has never been without danger or poverty. Cronin tells, basically, the stories of three families: Arthur Barras and his mine-owner father; David Fenwick, whose father and brothers are all miners, and his mother; and Joe Gowlan, who's determined to stop at nothing to amass as much power and money as he can. There is a huge number of subsidiary characters as well.
The narrator does the dialect very well, but to be frank, it is so thick in places as to be difficult to understand [I think Cronin meant it this way; at the time, that was the way the people spoke]. Cronin's style is both descriptive and terse; his dialogue is very believable, and the narrator does a very good job with both.
This is a book about several topics, not about miners alone. It's about the morality of power [absolute power corrupts absolutely], about war, about social injustice. A true classic, which stands alongside Cronin's other huge book, The Citadel.
Had never read AJ Cronin before, and was very pleasantly surprised that this classic is still entertaining and relevant. Learned afterward that "Billy Elliot" was loosely based on the coal miner's story. And that in tribute, the first song in the musical "Billy Elliot" is titled "The Stars Look Down" in tribute to this story.
But for the occasional ultra-liberal, even socialist, bias portrayed at various points, I would have given this 5 stars or even more if that were possible. The writing, character prortrayal, plot development, scenic description and narration are superb. I am not familiar with the reader, but he is as good as any I have encountered. My only reservation is the obvious socialistic politics of the author. But I can forgive this because I know the world was much different at that time than now. He did not have the irrefutable evidence that socialism, communism, extreme left wing politics simply do not work in the real world. I give him credit for portraying the 'working man' as something other than the ideal hero many on the left want to portray him as. The author gives what I perceive to be a realistic portrayal of the pettiness and self-centeredness of the worker, as well as the capitalist, which I believe is largely accurate. But this is truly a great novel, whatever your politics may be. The characters are sharply drawn, entirely believable and people you want to know better and care about. I've never read anything else by this author, or evn heard of him, but this is a work to be admired by those who love Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Steven Crane and, on another level, Thackeray, Eliot and Wharton.
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