Out of the Whirlpool

In the tradition of SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING and THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (Sillitoe’s first novel and first collection of short stories respectively), this concise novel is a bleakly naturalistic evocation of the life of Britain’s working classes and the futile dreams of another of Sillitoe’s barely articulate male protagonists. Orphaned at fourteen, eighteen-year-old Peter Granby is a high-school dropout who works in a furniture factory and lives with his grandmother in Radford Woodhouse, a “rough area.” Grim and predictable, Peter’s life seems to take a turn toward improvement when, as a result of a series of barely believable coincidences, he finds himself living in the “posh area of Mapperley” as a caretaker, handyman, and lover for Eileen Farnsfield, a middle-class and apparently sophisticated widow twenty years Peter’s senior. He lives in a studio on her estate, and it is here-- shortly after moving in--that he finds an old, “unsafe” shotgun once belonging to Eileen’s husband; Peter cleans it as well as he can and hangs it between two beams in the studio “as a decoration.” Thus the stage is set for the inexorable tragedy that occurs at the novel’s end, for--as most playgoers know--traditionally when a weapon is introduced in a drama’s first act it must be used in the third, and so it is in this story’s shattering climax.

Peter Granby will be familiar to readers acquainted with Sillitoe’s other stories, and so will his fate. Indeed, predictability is the sine qua non in this author’s brand of naturalism. Like the shotgun in Peter’s story, the dreams of Sillitoe’s characters invariably explode in their faces and leave their lives twisted by heredity, environment, and circumstances beyond their control.