Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Book Review: South Riding (Winifred Holtby)

I was inspired to read this by the recent BBC TV series. I loved the TV adaptation, but the book was better. Winifred Holtby was, quite simply, a superbly talented writer, who tragically died aged only 37 just when her talent was in full flower. South Riding was published posthumously by her literary executor, Vera Brittain. Extraordinarily, the framework of this novel is local government - not a subject that I would expect to be the basis of such a gripping story. This isn't high politics and high drama; it is the nitty-gritty of everyday politics, of the people that make the little decisions that affect people's daily lives, and their muddle of social concern and self-interest.

There is too much to this book to describe in a short review. On one level it is a romance, with a dash of Wuthering Heights. On another it is a portrait of a place - the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire, in reality the area around Hull - and its people. Holtby's characterisation is superb, bringing to life dozens of individuals, all very different and all very real. I love her fairness, showing the good even in the less attractive personalities, and understanding the motivation of those whose politics were opposed to her own, real life socialism. And she wrote beautifully. This was a book I didn't want to put down, because I truly cared about the characters.  Definitely a book I would recommend.


MacBeth Derham said...

Had you seen the 1938 film version? I thought the BBC was OK. Not sure I cared for the story overall, but the filming locations were interesting. Just wondering how it compares with the much older film.

Faith said...

Wow, I've never even heard of this! But there is an area called South Riding about a half hour's drive from here. It's a new planned development.

Anyway, sounds very interesting to me. I'll have to investigate both the book and the movie versions.

The Bookworm said...

No, I haven't seen the 1938 film, but would like to. There is also a 1974 TV version which gets much better reviews on Amazon than the recent one. I suspect if I had read the book first I would have enjoyed the TV version much less - there are a number of plot changes and characters missed out. The book has far more detail and subtlety.