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Crossing the Lines
Crossing the Lines
Set in Wigton during the 1950s, this absorbing novel (which follows on from The Soldiers Return and Son of War) follows the intertwined fates of people crossing boundaries in their lives.
Alive with a wide cast of characters, Crossing the Lines vividly portrays the spirit of the mid-century and the profound changes taking place at the time - in morals, religion, music and class.
Enthralling, a joy to read - Allan Massie, Scotsman.
"He's still the same Joe."
"Is he?" Sam looked to the end of the allotment path: Joe was gone. "I can't seem to get through to him nowadays."
"You're in him, Sam. You'll be there when needed."
At the end of the third volume in Melvyn Bragg's series of novels which parallels his own life, Joe Richardson leaves Wigton to take part in student theatricals in Germany. He is an enthusiastic but socially daunted student in Oxford. He has perhaps crossed the lines.
The life in the college, the sophisticated cultural talk of his fellow students, the sherry drinking and pipe-smoking, even his short hair-cut, seem to belong to a totally different world to that of Wigton.
His parents's horizon is bounded by the view from the windows of the Blackamoor Pub. His girl-friend, Rachel, a farmer's daughter from Oulton who braves the Oxford social scene for Joe's sake, feels she must free herself from his possessiveness. Her last message to him is "You'll show them, Joe."
In growing up, Joe has grown beyond his community and beyond the people he has known, his parents, friends, and townspeople, and is being drawn into a middle-class community.
There are ways in which he does not want to go. Amidst the foggy spires of Oxford he tells Rachel, although he admits it seems crackers, "You know, I prefer Wigton." And at the end of the novel, he is still able to get his hands dirty, stacking slates alongside his father, Sam, and Diddler, his gypsy friend.
He has gone beyond Wigton, but he has not disowned it. Wigton, like his parents, and his up-bringing, is in him and will be there when needed.
The remarkable thing about Lord Bragg is that for some-one who has travelled so very far, he still retains a deep and simple respect for the place and people of his childhood.
In Crossing the Lines, as in the two previous books, there is a straightforward direct description of place and people, without sophistication or irony.
Melvyn Bragg presents Wigton as it was, and in many ways, still is.
Such clarity and directness of writing is very hard won. It results in a story that has a feel of utter truthfulness, an accurate and unvarnished record of what it was like as a very intelligent boy growing up and coming of age in a Northern backwater.
Joe's love affair with Rachel is precisely recalled from the adolescent awkwardness of their first evening in the Wigton picture-house, the dances in the village hall, the cycle rides across the Solway Plain and into the Lakes, their first love-making and their final parting at Standingstone.
However, such direct truthfulness can also be embarrassing and na=EFve so that feelings are expressed with an adolescent rawness. At other times the novel strains for overtones of significance calling on Thomas Hardy, or D H Lawrence or Wordsworth to give the words a more resonant meaning.
There is a close understanding of the people in this story. The author enters into their feelings and just as we get an accurate recording of street names and pop songs, so we get an accurate recording of feelings and responses.
Joe Richardson's experience is at the heart of this novel, but Melvyn Bragg is also seeking to recall the life and sensibility of a community. He does this without being sentimental or patronising. In Speak For England, Melvyn Bragg was a democratic pioneer in enabling a community to speak for itself in all its variety and naturalness. Crossing the Lines is important in a similar way. It is a record of a life and community that is offered as honestly as possible. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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