Weekend in Dinlock. Clancy Sigal. Seeker & Warburg. 16/-.
i don’t know Clancy Sigal personally. Perhaps if I did this review would be more sympathetic. Perhaps it would be less. I think it is a first criticism of the book that if one knew the author, one’s views on it would be different. For this book is a very personal view of a mining community in Yorkshire. It can be narrowed down still further; it is a very personal view of a group of Yorkshire Colliery Face Workers, excluding their wives, who are only seen in relation to their menfolk. Dead-beats, surface workers and clerks are in the sub-world of Dinlock.
“The women, and the lives they lead, what they talk about and think about, are still an impenetrable mystery. As soon as 1 touch on one of the thousand rawly sensitive subjects coveted and nourished by Dinlock females Loretta clams up; when I mention, as lightly as possible, family matters, she burrows as far back into herself as politeness allows, and further questions are useless. You L.S.E. firsts in sociology, come on up here and find out what these women are thinking. Where are you?
(This last sentence, if I can borrow a favourite trick of the author in the first half of the book and insert a long parenthesis, indicates another weakness. Sociologists, even from L.S.E., are surely interested in what people do and how they behave. It’s a wise man or a psychologist who knows the thoughts that father his own actions, let alone those of the women of Dinlock).
Further, it is a book about Yorkshire Miners not at work but at leisure. The Trade Union affairs that are described are those that happen outside the pit, not in it. The visit to the pit itself, intended to be the climax, is the weakest part of the book. It starts on a false note with a highly dramatised picture of the descent in the cage. Either Clancy Sigal is very sensitive or he picked a very bad Winding-Engineman. Hundreds of thousands of men go down in pit-cages everyday plunging down at a dizzying, terrifying pace into sheer, impossible blackness. I don’t suppose many are “stricken speechless” nor do they find without their willing it that their ‘head jerks up’, or their ‘eyes implore for the last sign of daylight’. Pit work is bad enough without this supersensitivity. The description of colliers going on shift at 5.30 as being like men full of fear long ago forgotten moving into battle also strikes me as over-imaginative. I would not expect many people going to work at that hour, even farm workers, to admire the view or to look up at the several cows in the field just outside the colliery.
The book can be described as a documentary novel. The narrator, an American Journalist, meets a miner who is also a painter in London and goes home with him for two week-ends, one in winter and one in summer. On the first week-end he meets Davie’s family and friends. Apart from a fight it is free of dramatic incident. The second week-end is the crisis of Davie’s life, when he is forced by friends and his wife to make the choice—artist and the freedom of London, or Collier (i.e. face worker underground) and what the narrator refers to (presumptuously?) as the prison of Dinlock. Davie chooses to stay, and apparently telepathically communicates this to the narrator, who goes back unaccompanied to a Heading in the pit he has already seen once and comes face-to-face with Davie heaving coal. The point is made, of course, that Davie is uncertain whether the village is holding him back or whether, if he were to leave it, he would cut himself off from the working class who provide his inspiration. There is the underlying association of virility and potency with face work. The local Union leader is drawn in as a parallel, a man who gave up the chance to go ahead in the Union for fear of losing touch with the men. But these contradictions are not analysed and explored. The whole novel is too hurried for that and this is its major weakness. It is not enough in a book to report that contradictions exist. There are many of them: loyalty to the Union and unofficial strikes in defiance of it; contempt for those who have left the pit and admiration for those who get on in life; hero-worship of Union Leaders and profound distrust of their motives; nagging fear of death or disablement (p. 26) and taking accidents for granted (p. 67). All these contradictions exist. Sometimes Clancy Sigal shows he is aware that they do: sometimes he doesn’t, as in the last example. But he never analyses them at all adequately.
I don’t know the Yorkshire mining areas, but sometimes I am suspicious of his powers of observation. Is going into a club as a visitor such a major operation? It isn’t in South Wales. Are Yorkshire miners really so concerned with sleeping with each other’s wives and fighting each other? Coal Is Our Life said that important interests were betting on horses, and Rugby League, two subjects not mentioned at all in this book. I have heard of cases of both adultery and fist-fighting in South Wales, but I would hardly rate either as the main out-of-working-hours amusement of the Welsh miners.