Monday, 5 February 2018

I wanted to love this - its heart is in the right place - but oh dear, so earnest and repetitive and far too long; it could lose 150 pages and you wouldn't have missed a thing. Published in 1938, it begins with the return of a young woman reporter to her Yorkshire hometown (based on Leeds) to care for her querulous, sickly mother. It's really about the intertwining lives of different social classes: well-meaning Tory gentry; the dysfunctional, wealthy family of a dour self-made man; old-school Labour activists and an impatient young Communist; as well as the great mass of cheery don't knows and don't cares and a pretty millgirl who aspires to gentrification in the form of a proper bathroom and a  three-piece suite on the never-never. The ingredients are all there, but the characters are suffocating under so much politics and it's a bit like being lectured by a finger-wagging speaker at a public meeting. It's remniscent of North and South, South Riding, Love on the Dole ... but National Provincial feels dated rather than a forgotten classic. It does, of course, convey the mood of political urgency of 1938 - of a world edging towards disaster - but a lighter touch would have made a better novel.
I knew I'd read National Provincial before, not all that long ago but it hadn't stuck in my mind and after I'd written this, I thought that maybe I'd posted about it previously, too. Well, I had, and clearly enjoyed it rather more the first time. To be fair, it does start off very promisingly. Looking at the date stamps in my library copy, it's evident that nobody has checked it out in the interim! 

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