Monday, March 19, 2012

15. The Incline by William Mayne

There is a whole world of British fiction for younger readers.  I only know a small sampling of it (The Box of Delights, Swallows and Amazons, Enid Blighton) but would like to know more.  There is a used bookstore in Winnipeg (Nerman's Books) that has an amazing selection of it (entire collections of authors) in their basement.  If I lived there, I would probably make more of a study of it.  The first bookstore we went to on our Maritimes trip was in Victoria in PEI and was called Kit Marlowe & Co.  The proprietor was a friendly, informative British woman and she had a small and selective stock with a lot of interesting british stuff.  She recommended William Mayne as having been a popular young adult author with a working class perspective.  The Incline is the book of his that I picked up there.

It's about a young man, Mason, who finishes school and starts a job working as a clerk in the bank in his village.  His father is the foreman of the local granite quarry, which is the economic heart of the little village.  The main storyline in the book is about the quarry losing money and then shutting down, but it is all seen through young Mason's viewpoint.  It's odd, because he is really young, seemingly just starting puberty, but he's finished schooling and starting out in the bank working alongside an older fellow.  I guess this is the period when the concept of "teenager" had yet to come into being.  It makes it difficult to understand his behaviour and thinking as he is at once much more adult than a person of his age today and at the same time, much less experienced.

The owner of the quarry came from the same roots as Mason's father, but has done well for himself and now owns the big house on the hill.  He also has a daughter that is about Mason's edge.  They used to play together, but now he has developed a crush on her.  She is weirdly infantalized, having been groomed for a higher class and sheltered from the realities that her peers in the village face.  She's nice, though, but wants to keep their relationship at the same level it was when they were toddlers together, while Mason is looking for something more serious (though even he is quite innocent about how it all works, believing only that he "loves" her).

It's an odd book, staying mainly in the cerebral.  While things actually happen, quite serious things, they never seem to disturb the dreamlike wondering that is Mason's worldview.  This book doesn't have any of the weight or bitterness I expected.  There is no resentment of the wealthy or crushing despair for the poor.  It just is what it is and doesn't seem all that unpleasant.  An interesting read, which probably requires some analysis and explanation by experts to help the 21st century North American reader to understand.

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