In his novels, Melvyn Bragg has always shown complete disregard for the 'modern' and the 'experimental' in fiction. He writes as if Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Hemingway had never been. In style, structure and content he is closer to the traditional 19th-century novelist than to most of his contemporaries. Like Hardy, he places his characters in a particular rural and small town setting—in his case, Cumberland—and chronicles the tensions and conflicts between different generations of the same family, between husband and wife, between individual and society. He believes that an author should take into account the usefulness of his book to its reader. The first-person narrator in … The Nerve says that 'where possible, fiction, like all imaginative writing, should be helpful; the very best is beautiful and truthful and instances of those aspects of life are all the help we need.'
Bragg is most helpful in making you see the importance of work, as something either satisfying or soul-destroying…. [He] has the knack of bringing to life the handling of tools and materials…. This, I had thought, together with his accurate picture of the country between the Lake District and the Solway Firth, was his main achievement. His characters had never seemed as interesting as what they did or where they were.
The Silken Net is Bragg's best book yet; at last he is as successful with people as with place. (pp. 253-54)
John Mellors, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1974; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), August 22, 1974.