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I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 3 September 2020

"The Green Years" by A J Cronin

 Young Irish Catholic Robert Shannon from Dublin is brought to 'Levenford', a fictional Scottish, largely Presbyterian town, near Ben Lomond and the Clyde. Dumbarton where Cronin spent his early years, is a town where the River Leven meets the Clyde. 'Levenford' is also the town that Hatter's Castle (Cronin's first novel) is set in and Robert's new Papa (actually his grandfather) is a similarly stingy character to Brodie, the hat-shop owner of the title. The major influence on young Robbie's life is his great Grandfather ("Grandpa") who, in total contrast to the rest of the dour household, is a womaniser (so far as his ageing flesh will allow him) and a drunkard (when he has the funds) and a great storyteller (or liar). Robbie, the brightest in his class at school, wants to be a scientist but the family finances can't (or won't) afford to pay for his education. Can he win a scholarship? Will his dreams come true? Or will the poverty of everyday life grind him into conformity?

Published in 1944, this novel spent 17 weeks in the New York Times best-seller lists in 1945 and was made into a successful film. It feels quite autobiographical. It is a well written book and the characters or Grandpa and Grandma, Papa and Mama and Murdoch are beautifully drawn.

It is brilliantly realistic. He achieves verisimilitude with a host of minor details. I particularly enjoyed the reference to "that splendid beverage, sustainer of my youth, Barr's Iron Brew" (3.7_

The second sentence is "I was inclined to trust Mama, whom, until today, I had never seen before." That's not a bad hook!

Other great moments:

  • "Your tear-bag seems precious near your eye." (Part 1, Chapter 1)
  • "A bottle of delicious yellow aerated water named Iron Brew, with a label showing a strong man in a leopardskin lifting dumb-bells of tremendous weight." (1.4) This dates this scene to after 1899 and before 1946 when the name was changed to Irn-Bru. 
  • "I have nothing against the Catholics, except maybe their Popes. ... some of those Borgias, with their poisoned rings and sichlike, were not quite the clean potato." (1.11)
  • "Like most weak men, he attached the utmost importance to not changing his mind." (2.6)
  • "I wanted to be like Julius Caesar and Napoleon. But I was still myself." (2.6)
  • "my body lies helpless, as in a catalepsy, waiting for the first streaks of light beneath the blind that will usher me again to the tyranny of ambition." (2. 9)
  • "Sophie, in the scullery, washed the dishes with such complete absence of noise that one could almost hear the straining of her ear drums." (3.3)
  • "Life's an awful business." (3.3)
  • "Suddenly I caught sight of a little peep-hole which some mischievous passenger had cut in the wood of the dividing partition. Crushed, overwhelmed by despondency and horror, I rose nevertheless, impelled by nameless curiosity, and out my eye to the little hole. But the next compartment was empty, quite empty too." (3.4)
  • "Do you remember when we once discussed those creatures who live five miles down in the ocean, feeling their way, without eyes, in the blackness ... a sort of eternal night ... only poccasionally a faint phosphorescent gleam? And if they're brought up, nearer the light of day, they simply explode. That's us, in our relation to God." (3.5)
  • "The future rose before me like a wall." (3.7)


A well-written easy-to-read semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel set in the early 1900s with a dourly realistic setting. September 2020; 287 pages 

Other great books by this novelist:

  • Hatter's Castle, also set in Levenford about a stingy patriarch, Cronin's first book
  • The Citadel, about the career of a young idealistic doctor, regarded by many as his best, also regarded as the book that launched the British National Health Service
  • The Keys of the Kingdom, for me Cronin's masterpiece, about a self-effacing missionary in China

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