South Riding – the real thing

So, having been off gallivanting again – this time to Manchester with at least no dramas about returning – I bought far too many books and now feel obliged to write about at least some of them. My Mothering Sunday present from Son Two was If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley.

I have started to read it, and it is a enjoyable history book. I am enjoying it, partly for the reasons that I was disappointed in Bill Bryson’s  Home. This is a book of British home history in all its itchy, smelly but fascinating detail. So you do not need to be an American History don to understand it. Also, it does represent the female element far more fully, revealing the sheer hard work behind bed making, dressing and all the other activities of the bedroom…

The main book today is the amazing South Riding by Winifred Holtby.

If you have only watched the (admittedly excellent) BBC adaptation you may have gained the impression that this is a lightweight romance. Not so. If you have read Middlemarch you will recognise the type of book this really is. It is the story of a community, but more importantly the various people, their passions and problems, that make up that community. I think that Holtby was trying to present a portrait of what actually makes a community tick through looking at some of its inhabitants, old and new, with a vested interest in the people and place as well as the newly arrived and ambitious. As in the tv adaptation the main character is the new headmistress of the girls’ school, Sarah Burton, and her ambitions. She does encounter the mysterious Carne, who has many problems of his own, as well as Lydia, whose intellectual promise is held back by her family responsibilities. This book includes many other characters and their stories which are developed and run together. It is a complex book, far deeper than the tv would make you believe, with far more to say about love, hope, ambition, compromise and fulfillment. It is is not a completely happy book; there is death, disillusionment  and despair. But there is also love of many kinds, humour in the variety of people, and fascinating situations. It is a deep wallow of a book, an undertaking to read but very rewarding. I enjoyed it and have already given my copy to unwary relative to read. If you enjoyed the drama on the tv, this is a really good read, even without David Morrisey…


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