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Union Street (1982)

by Pat Barker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4361457,707 (3.75)70
Vivid, bawdy and bitter' (The Times), Pat Barker's first novel shows the women of Union Street, young and old, meeting the harsh challeges of poverty and survival in a precarious world. There's Kelly, at eleven, neglected and independent, dealing with a squalid rape; Dinah, knocking on sixty and still on the game; Joanne, not yet twenty, not yet married, and already pregnant; Old Alice, welcoming her impending death; Muriel helplessly watching the decline of her stoical husband. And linking them all, watching over them all, mother to half the street, is fiery, indomitable Iris.… (more)
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» See also 70 mentions

English (13)  Dutch (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
In kind of interlinked short stories, the author introduces us to women living a life of unremitting bleakness in the North East.
From the neglected 11 year old, raped as she plays near derelict buildings, through to the old woman living in squalor and waiting to be taken to an old people's home...and every age in between. Women with violent, hard drinking men, money worries, pregnancy and difficult children, prostitution...
Very strong writing. ( )
  starbox | Mar 31, 2022 |
Bookbox - ABC VBB; a classic following the the stories of 7 girls/women from elementary school through old age, all that live on or near Union street, the industrial area with work drying up. Each chapter is one slice of life, and we get to know additional information if the previous characters are part of or alluded to in the next one. Reminds me of Maeve Binchy's writing, interweaving stories. It's not as depressing as it could have been, but I doubt anything is happily ever after for any of them ( )
  nancynova | Nov 8, 2021 |
Uncompromising, unbelievably sad and harsh, ‘Union Street’ by Pat Barker does not hide the uncomfortable truths of poverty in North-East industrial England. This is the story of eight women who live on Union Street from teenager Kelly Brown to Alice Bell in her eighties and though each story is told individually, like the lives of the women, the stories interweave. An honest book about women struggling to hold life, family and home together, while retaining pride and some of their own individuality. Some succeed in this, others don’t.
This is not a book about idealised motherhood. It is about putting bread on the table for your children no matter how you do it; including beating your husband to get his pay packet before he spends it on booze. These women are tough because they have to be; the choices are the cake factory, charring, and prostitution. Many marry young to feckless husbands because they are pregnant. This is not a light read; it features scenes of rape and backstreet abortion that somehow make the prostitution a lighter route. The language is often strong and some of the descriptions are difficult to read; but it is an honest book, bleak and realistic.
The spine throughout the book is Iris King, she appears in each story and is the one most aware of other women’s lives and offers support and a word of kindness when needed. But Iris is the toughest woman in the street. Three weeks after marrying Ted, he knocks her around because she is ironing his shirts when he gets home from work when he was expecting his supper. “After he’d gone, she sat down and took stock… When he came back she was waiting for him behind the door with the meat chopper in her hand. The blow glanced off him, though there was enough blood around to scare the pair of them stiff. It didn’t stop him hitting her again, but it did free her from the fear. She never lost her self-respect.” It is that self-respect which separates Iris from the other women.
This is the first novel by Booker Prize winner Barker, but such is the excellence of the prose you would never know. The ending is raw and sad, it cannot fail to touch you.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | May 8, 2019 |
Another one from my Contemporary Women’s Writing module. This book is horrible but really really good. If that makes sense. It reads more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but it’s about a group of working class women in the 1970s, and they all have really grim lives and horrible things happen to them. Not a cheery book by any stretch of the world, but it’s really compelling. ( )
  plumtingz | Dec 14, 2017 |
Excellent portrayal of the gritty, sobering aspects of life in London neighbourhoods during the war. The characters beautifully woven together through acts of kindness and love as well as misery. Shows the various stages of life in the characters and how poverty and keeping up with traditions and upholding values that are difficult to maintain under the circumstances push one past one's own limits. ( )
  a_forester | Jun 2, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Miss Barker skillfully employs the factory setting to touch on matters like automation, race prejudice, feeblemindedness and the sheer human hardship experienced by some of those trapped on the assembly line. . . Pat Barker gives the sense of a writer who has enormous power that she has scarcely had to tap to write a first-rate first novel.
added by christiguc | editNew York Times, Ivan Gold (Oct 2, 1983)
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pat Barkerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bruurmijn, JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dallatorre, MarcellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Silva, ElizabethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ewerlöf, KatarinaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hartmann, ElisabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Møller-Madsen, LisbethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, HanneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Páez de la Cadena, FranciscoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preis, AnnikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tachibana, KaoruTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Teixidor, Valentí DaurellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wulfsberg, CamillaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There was a square of cardboard in the window where the glass had been smashed.
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Vivid, bawdy and bitter' (The Times), Pat Barker's first novel shows the women of Union Street, young and old, meeting the harsh challeges of poverty and survival in a precarious world. There's Kelly, at eleven, neglected and independent, dealing with a squalid rape; Dinah, knocking on sixty and still on the game; Joanne, not yet twenty, not yet married, and already pregnant; Old Alice, welcoming her impending death; Muriel helplessly watching the decline of her stoical husband. And linking them all, watching over them all, mother to half the street, is fiery, indomitable Iris.

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In Pat Barker's first novel, the women of Union Street, young and old, meet the harsh challenge of poverty and survival in a precarious world. There's Kelly, neglected and independent, and dealing at eleven with a squalid rape; Dinah, knocking on sixty and still on the game; Joanne, not yet twenty and not yet married, but already pregnant; old Alice, welcoming her impending death; and Muriel, helplessly watching the decline of her stoical husband. Watching over them all is the fiery, indomitable Iris, mother to half the street (back cover description).
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