Title: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
Author: Alan Sillitoe
Release date: March 2, 2010 (this edition)
Genre: Short story collection
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3 out of 5
Alan Sillitoe’s 1959 collection of short stories, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, peeks into the lives of ordinary working-class men and boys with a keen observatory eye.
Sillitoe is at his finest in first-person stories, where he captures the voice and cadence of his characters perfectly. Although much of the dialect and slang of the working-class Brit in the ‘60s went over my head, I kept reading for the power of that voice.
In stories like the titular “Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” “The Fishing-Boat Picture,” and “The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller,” Sillitoe’s characters are darkly humorous and uniquely human. “On Saturday Afternoon” is wickedly funny, like a jaded Tom Sawyer.
Sillitoe plays around with pacing; often the opening of the story is the slowest part, with the narrator clearing his throat before launching into a rollicking time running from the coppers or mourning the fate of a neighbor. He often blends dialogue and exposition, blurring the line between words and actions, which gives many of the stories a feeling of having overheard them in a crowded council yard.
This collection of stories was short, and I don’t have much else to say about it. Which brings me to a larger point about book reviewing. The hardest books to review are: 1.) Books that made a so-so impression on you. 2.) Highly praised books, especially classics. 3.) Books outside of your wheelhouse.
This collection is some combination of all three.
1. I enjoyed the stories as I read them, particularly Sillitoe’s distinct voice and clearly defined characters; but I wasn’t particularly compelled to start a new story once one had ended.
2. Which is a tough thing to admit, because this book is a modern classic by some estimations; The New York Times Book Review calls Sillitoe “one of the best English writers of the day,” and The Guardian named him “one of the most important British writers of the postwar era.”
Who am I to say different? My only solace is that I believe readers of my blog are looking for straightforward opinions and recommendations in the endless array of books available to them.
3. Parts of these stories were incomprehensible to me. I didn’t understand much of the dialect, although I could sort of muddle through. Many of the cultural references didn’t trigger anything in me. And, although the depictions of a certain British class felt dead-on to me, there’s much I don’t know about London in the forties and fifties, and I wish I could see a fuller picture. That’s certainly not the fault of the author, but of myself; this book reminded me that I need to read even more widely than I have in the past, and it made me very glad for my new Geography of Reading challenge.
But this disconnect is why reviewing books can sometimes feel so difficult—what doesn’t resonate with me may very well resonate with you.
Don’t just take my word for it! Buy The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.