Magazine article The Spectator

Glories of the Silver Screen

Magazine article The Spectator

Glories of the Silver Screen

Article excerpt

Glories of the silver screen THIN-ICE SKATER by David Storey Cape, £16.99, pp. 268, ISBN 0224064495

The anchoring memories of this novel go back to the second world war. That is where crucial people in the plot received their opportunities and their wounds. Less easy to fathom, for this reviewer anyway, was why most of the book seems to take place in the 1970s. Nothing much was done with this egregious decade: it was a given fact, an inexplicable datum of the plotting. I later discovered that the novel was begun at that time, which explains the matter externally, if not as it were from the inside out.

Storey's own journey was famously from Wakefield to London, the rugby-playing, Slade-attending writer, composing books on the train journeys that represented the no-man's land in which he negotiated his two forms of existence. But the life-awakening journey of his young narrator Richard in Thin-Ice Skater is the other way around. He travels out of the home and life of his foul-mouthed, big-shot, film-producer brother, to head up north. We're not told where, but we could always speculate that it might not be a million miles from that Wakefield where a plaque now hangs on the wall of a council house to commemorate the birthplace of David Storey 70 years ago. This is where Richard makes the definitive journey from boy to man. Only at the end does he go back to the big city where the glitter and the money reside.

Smart, troubled and randy, Richard is an engaging companion. He can be foul-mouthed too, but his obscenities never reach the industrial scale of production of those of his half-brother Gerry. Gerry is in fact so much older than Richard that their fraternal link seems tenuous. An age disparity of such proportions, and a somewhat murky genealogy covering it, seem to be signalling something wonky in the family set-up. This turns out to be the case. Not all of these family revelations seem entirely convincing. Some of the plotting here is close to mechanical. Novelists sometimes employ enabling actions, which are inserted purely to precipitate a further development. That's when they have to watch it, though: at such times the scene-changers can show their trousers. If they're flared, they might even have first been pressed in the 1970s.

Things are not as they seem, we learn before too long, although in another sense, Storey appears to imply, they are precisely as they seem. …

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