It was surprising to see the resemblances between Her Victory and This Earth of Mankind. Alan Sillitoe's new novel is about 50-year-old Britons feeling rootless. Pramoedya Ananta Toer is concerned with young people of the Dutch East Indies in the 1890s, almost choked with different roots - religions, races, cultures, classes - all sprouting wildly. The resemblances struck me when I started reading the Indonesian novel as an invigorating respite, after the slow melancholy of Sillitoe's first chapters, 'Making a Break' and 'Home from the Sea': the first of these is about Pam, a bored, friendless housewife in Nottingham, trying to get away from her husband; the second is about Tom, a bored, friendless Merchant Navy officer making his way to the flat of his dismal maiden aunt. In the third chapter, 'Meeting', Tom finds Pam in a dreary North Kensington flat, trying to gas herself with an unlit fire, and dutifully slaps her to life. He is a man of duty, thus described: 'The system of forethought by which he lived made sure that on the next watch, or by the morning after, he would find all necessary items for life and duty laid out in perfect navy order. Such drill, when working with a thoroughness too ordinary for him to admire, made existence easy, for sufficient preparation meant less to think about when the moment of necessity came, though he didn't doubt that if assailed by an unexpected happening his training and intuition would channel him into the right actions. There was no other way of doing things.' It will be recognised that Sillitoe's paragraphs need to be read slowly.
LRB 2 December 1982 | PDF Download