My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book, as its been said by many, is a brilliant piece of social commentary. What is less often said is that it follows in the tradition of many a great title - Mrs Gaskell's Mary Barton and North and South, , Forster's Howards End, Charlotte Bronte's Shirley and Dicken's Hard Times to name a few - as a "Condition of England Novel" (you can read more on that here: http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/din...). The titles I mention are studied by Robyn Penrose in the novel, herself an expert in the Condition of England genre. (Note 'Howard's End' in particular, for 'Nice Work' is often considered a modernisation of the text - the similarities having read both are endless).
I read this book as part of my studies on the Condition of England Novel, and if I'd seen it in a bookshop I doubt I'd have picked it up. All the worse for me. Its a very interesting book written at a very turbulent time in British industry and education. I would recommend some background reading on the Thatcher period if you draw a blank on the subject, otherwise the book itself would be sufficient. The interactions between Robyn Penrose and Vic Wilcox, their relationship, and each on their own, are fascinating characters who struggle to see eye-to-eye, and it is the challenge that presents that makes them so drawn to each other. I also enjoy the sojourns into each characters little world. If I'm honest, I am much more sympathetic to Robyn - that may be because she's female and has similar values to mine, but ultimately I think its because we come from the same 'cultured' world of academia. I, like her, have no real experience of industry aside from growing up in a mining town and seeing the affects that can have on a community.
My only criticism of the book is its ending. As with all Condition of England novels, their is no real solution. As Robyn herself says:
"In short, all the Victorian novelist could offer as a solution to the problem of industrial capitalism were: a legacy, a marriage, emigration or death."Its the get-out solution; Robyn got her legacy (and a shot at emigration). I'm not quite sure what Vic got, but his marriage seemingly improved.