- Title: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
- Author: Alan Sillitoe
- First Published: 1959
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a collection of various short stories. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the stories in the collection dwell on the theme of loneliness.
My favourite story is called The fishing-boat Picture, which tells a melancholy story of a separate couple who seem to begin a reconciliation over a picture of a fishing boat, reminding them of their marriage. However, the story lacks a conventional “happily ever after” ending – the narrative cuts off before you even have time what has happened to the characters.
Another story that stuck with me is called On Saturday Afternoon, about a boy who watches a man attempt suicide. This was an eye-opening piece because of how the child narrator spoke bluntly about death and suicide – issues which I think are still very much a taboo subject today, as they were in the 1950s. In a way, it reminded me of John Boyne’s famous novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, as the two main characters, Bruno and Shmuel, discussed in an unfortunately naïve way of the atrocities of Hitler’s death camps in WWII.
However, I couldn’t really get into Sillitoe’s title story – the longest of all.
It tells the tale of Smith, who is a long-distance runner whilst at a Borstal, a type of youth detention centre. He reflects on his life of petty crime as a child, the power structure in place at a Borstal and how he uses running to take back control in his life. The repetition of the word ‘loneliness’ is interesting. Loneliness can suggest both abandonment and empowered isolation because, when he is running the race, he is also running further from the Borstal.
Borstals were abolished by the 1980s, although I remember seeing a documentary on Channel 4 called Bring Back Borstal, experimenting with the idea of using Borstals again. I think the themes of power struggles, rebellion, and isolation are still important today, but I did struggle to view these within the context of a Borstal system.
Overall though, the collection of stories certainly expressed important themes, although I definitely enjoyed some more than others.
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