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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

Union Street was the first novel by Patricia Mary W. Barker (née Drake; born May 8, 1943) to be published, although Barker had written earlier novels that did she did not sell to publishers as she was honing her craft. Union Street was published by Virago Press, an English publishing house focusing on works by female authors, in 1982.

The novel is set in the northeast of England in a working-class neighborhood in the 1970s. This was a period of economic stagnation and deindustrialization in which many working class jobs in northern England disappeared, leading to political disillusionment, strikes, and other social problems. Barker's novel reflects how these economic and social circumstances affected seven women of different ages and situations. Much of the setting is similar to setting that Barker herself experienced growing up in Yorkshire.

The stories of the seven main characters are closely linked by location and experience of poverty and violence and work as linked rather than unified narratives. They show how the cycle of poverty and sexual oppression affect women's lives from puberty through old age.

The first story is that of Kelly Brown, a teenager who is raped by a stranger. The narrative shows how she attempts to cope with and process the experience of rape. Next, readers encounter the story of Joanne Wilson, who accidentally gets pregnant. Although neither she nor her boyfriend really want to get married, the pregnancy traps them into deciding to "do the right thing."

Lisa Goddard is an example of a woman trapped in an abusive marriage by an early pregnancy. She has two young children and an unemployed husband and relies on government subsidies to survive. Muriel Scaife and Iris King are both married mothers struggling with the effects of poverty and violence on their families. Blonde Dinah is a prostitute and an example of the precarious existence in this society of women who are sexually active but do not "do the right thing" by getting married. Finally, Alice Bell is an old woman trying to die with dignity despite her poverty. At the end of the novel, she meets Kelly Brown, completing the narrative cycle of the book.

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