It can be hard to pin down one’s motives for deciding to read, say, Lucky Jim in preference to millions of other books. Not that there’s anything wrong with Kingsley Amis’s novel: far from it. The point is, I suspect our choices are influenced by all sorts of factors we’re ashamed to acknowledge. At least that’s been my experience.
Like most people, my own selections tend to be guided by an admiration for an author’s previous books or an interest in a specific subject. But I’m not always so rational. I must admit I’ve sometimes been put off a writer’s work by a humourless radio interview or a smug-looking publicity photo. On the other hand, I’ve sometimes ended up reading a book for no other reason than that I came across a cheap copy of it. I’ve even occasionally bought books because of their attractive dust jackets.
I was drawn to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 debut novel, for just such unintellectual reasons. I suppose I must have been about 17 at the time. From what I remember, my sudden urge to read this two-decade-old novel stemmed from seeing the 1960 film adaptation on TV. I was also curious because it was set in Nottingham, where I’d grown up.
Since it wasn’t on the shelves of my local library and I couldn’t afford to buy a new copy, I plodded round the second-hand bookshops. I eventually acquired an old paperback film tie-in edition. Its dog-eared cover featured a painting of the young Albert Finney, who stars as Arthur Seaton, a rebellious, self-assured factory worker. The picture, reminiscent of the covers of American pulp novels of the 1940s and 1950s, shows him standing with his hands cupped round a lighted match, which casts an implausibly strong, virile glow across his trousers and blue sports jacket. It’s an appropriate image for a story powered by the libido of its central character.
In both book and film, Seaton courts a girl of his own age while conducting an illicit affair with an older, married woman. There may be nothing original about the story, tracing his painful journey into sexual and social conformity, but its setting must have seemed start
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