Essential Read: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning


By Calum Henderson

‘Saturday night’, wrote Alan Sillitoe, ‘was the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-burning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath’. For the main character in this book, Arthur Seaton, it is a chance to lose himself in an alcoholic haze after a long week’s work at a Nottingham bicycle factory.

In reality, however, Seaton is not much of a worker. He turns up late, daydreams at the helm of the machines, and always tries to clock off as early as the foreman will allow. In his private life he is equally blithe, happily bedding both married and unmarried women, including the wife of one of his best friends. A life of booze-fuelled one night stands allows Arthur to avoid all the trappings of a serious relationship. Yet for all his shortcomings, Arthur is not a dislikeable figure. Any reader can see he is trapped in a grim and largely pointless existence and is trying to make the most of it while he can, one Saturday night at a time.

However, the world catches up with Arthur in the latter stages of the book, when the husband of one of Arthur’s sleeping partners beats him up after learning of the affair. It is around this time that Doreen, the book’s other major character, enters the scene. Intelligent and reserved, she has a power over Arthur that he has never known in any woman before. By the time of the ‘Sunday morning’ section, which serves as an epilogue, Arthur, still recovering from his beating, is a changed man; more sensible and reflective than before, and now even contemplating marriage to Doreen. Deep down, however, he still wonders if he’ll ever be truly happy, and nurses a desire to return the debauchery of those infamous Saturday nights.

When it was first published in 1958, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ caused a fair amount of controversy. Its portrayal of marital infidelity and the true drudgery of 20th century working class life is not likely to shock many readers now, although it is still an immensely powerful book. Many admirers of this novel have cited the horrific and protracted abortion scene, involving a scolding hot bath and three bottles of gin, as being indelibly etched in their memory.

Sillitoe, who died in 2010, said he had little regard for how readers perceive Arthur. ‘I had no theme in my head except the joy of writing,’ he says in the book’s introduction, ‘the sweat of writing clearly and truthfully, the work of trying to portray ordinary people as I knew them, and in such a way that they would recognise themselves’. The book is an achievement in itself, and an inspiration to all other writers keen on capturing some of the real world in print.} else {