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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959)

by Alan Sillitoe

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If there was a book I would never read again, it would be this book; and I probably will not read it a second time. I could make very little sense of it - or rather, what the text/author wanted to express - and found it therefore simply dull. For me there was nothing even remotely interesting about the book and the only reason I finsihed it was because it was a compulsory school read. ( )
  Zurpel | Sep 22, 2013 |
http://andalittlewine.blogspot.com/2012/12/class-warfare-in-loneliness-of-long.h...

There is a war coming. While a war between countries will grab the headlines, it is the war between the classes that is will do the most damage- because the lower classes are growing, the chasm between the bottom and the top is impenetrably deep, and the well-meaning middle class (because they want to avoid the war, or because they don't think war is really necessary) serve as tools of hegemony.

It's hard not to read Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner through the prism of our American fiscal cliff.

In story after story of this slim collection, the lower class Britons on the eve of the Second World War slouch from birth to death. They make terrible choices for lack of options across nine stories: robbery; a fight between a teacher and student; a man kindly assists his ex-wife in drinking herself to death; two boys beg, lie and steal to scrape together enough money to enjoy a fair; a man hangs himself with the help of a young boy; one man alleviates the misery of his life by beating his wife and children, while another exposes himself to little girls.

In the cruelest story of them all, "Uncle Ernest," the title character (a hard working upholsterer) finds joy in his hand-to-mouth existence by caring for two young girls. It's unclear if they needed his care: their mother has a job, and they go to school. When they first meet Ernest, they have the money for the bus ride home from a small cafe. Still, they accept his charity- he goes hungry and runs up debt to buy them tea and sweets. In kindness, he finds companionship and a hollow measure of happiness. The world, of course, punished him for that. A pair of coppers show up, responding to complaints or questions- some people thought the little girls were taking advantage of the old man's generosity. The police, acting on the best behalf of society, accuse him of untoward acts that have never crossed his mind, and they finally fling him into the street with orders to never contact the girls again. Uncle Ernest retreats to a bar, for the only escape society allows him.

This is how the world ends.

On both sides of our political divide, people are fighting for what they believe is best. I hold my beliefs because I think they are what would be best for the most people. I am sure that the senators and congressmen who are working against my desires belief they are striving for the same goal.

But the system is broken, badly. The wealthy have, over time, accumulated so many advantages that while it is possible for an American to move from the lower class to the middle class through ingenuity, perseverance and a little luck, the middle class is the peak of the summit.

As in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, we make choices every day, not because they are the best choices, but because they are the only ones we are allowed. There are too many people willing to work hard and believe that good fortune will come, too many coppers doing their duty, too many neighbors listening silently through the wall who are glad when the beating ends but who do nothing to stop it.

We cannot fix a broken system from within when millions of people are working to maintain the status quo because they believe it is in their best interest. World War II broke Great Britain; the Empire was bankrupt, and re-industrialization through the Marshall Plan took a backseat to the illusion of global power. In American history, confronted with a similar stratification in the 1890s, Americans pushed back, forcing major democratizing reforms on their government in favor of the majority and against the wealthy, powerful and well connected. With another 40 years of hindsight, will Americans look at the dawn of the 21st Century as the beginning or the end of the Second Gilded Age? ( )
  jscape2000 | Jan 4, 2013 |
RunnerVery bleak stories dealing with loneliness and desperation. They are beautiful and well-rounded stories that at times reminded me of Winesburg, Ohio.A young man takes to long distance running to escape life in juvenile detention. The officials praise how his participation has turned him around, but the runner proves they can't control him.An old man buys lunch for two girls just so he won't be alone. An ex-wife keeps asking for her husbands favorite picture, just to see him buy it back from a pawn shop. Other stories of youths trying to break away out of their poverty only to end up in worse circumstances. Some find small victories, the runner finds freedom when he is alone like he is the last man on earth, another lives in a fantasy world where he leads his troops into battle, but they are only schoolboys.All heartbreaking stories but almost all find a way where they have their freedom, something that cannot be controlled, their will....winning means the exact opposite, no matter how hard they try to kill or kid me, means running right into their white-gloved wall-barred hands and grinning mugs and staying there for the rest of my natural long life of stone-breaking anyway, but stone-breaking in the way I want to do it and not in the way they tell me. P 45I was born dead, I keep telling myself. Everybody's dead, I answer. So they are, I maintain, but then most of them never know it like I'm beginning to do, and it's a bloody shame that this has come to me at last when I could at least do with it, and when it's too bloody late to get anything bad from it. Then optimism rides out of the darkness like a knight in armour. If you loved her...(of course I bloody-well did)...then you both did the only thing possible if it was to be remembered as love. Now didn't you? Knight in armour goes back into blackness. Yes, I cry, but neither of us did anything about it, and that's the trouble. P 99 ( )
  shadowofthewind | Aug 28, 2012 |
Dès mon arrivée au Borstal, ils ont fait de moi un coureur de fond en cross. Ça doit être parce qu'ils trouvaient que j'avais la découpure qu'il faut, parce que j'étais grand et musclé pour mon âge (et je le suis toujours). Au fond, pour vous dire le vrai, je ne m'en faisais guère pour ça, parce que, de courir, ç'a tout le temps été le fort dans notre famille, surtout quand il s'agit de se défiler de la police. Moi, j'ai toujours été bon à la course, avec, à la fois du sprint et de la foulée, mais le seul ennui, c'est que malgré toute ma vitesse, et pour savoir jouer des flûtes, vous pouvez être, sûr que je m'y connais, même si c'est moi qui vous le dis, c'est pas ça qui m'a empêché de me faire piger par les cognes le jour que j'ai fait la boulangerie.
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
This compilation of short stories was neither good nor bad. It tells of the strife of working class in early 20th century England. ( )
  rvolenti | Oct 21, 2010 |
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As soon as I got to Borstal they made me a long-distance cross-country runner.
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Contains nine darkly comic stories of working-class men in 1950s Nottingham.

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