I’m not sure how, but books have been flooding into the house. Well, some of them are for Reasons, one is for a challenge and two are slight blasts from the past. A book review first, though, which I’ve kind of been putting off because I’ve found it quite hard to review. You know when a book is quite challenging, and then also you’re part of the problem it’s writing about, and you feel like in writing about it, you’ll display all your privileges and be even more part of the problem? That. I’ll give it a go, though.

Lynsey Hanley – “Respectable: The Experience of Class”

(21 January 2017, from Sian)

I have to say, Sian does choose a good book from my (extensive) wish list!

Like her writing and sociology hero, Richard Hoggart, Lynsey Hanley mines both her own lived experience and research by others to investigate the class system in the UK, and specifically social mobility from the working class to the middle class, the path she herself has taken.

As a solidly middle-class person, it opened my eyes to my own privileges: that however poor I’ve been, and I’ve been pretty poor, working in a low-status job on a zero-hours contract, I have always still felt confident to access – or reject – both high and low culture, to use my library, to go to art galleries and listen to classical CDs as well as going to gigs, to read the Guardian and understand its talking to me, with few complications. As she says, you can’t really fall down out of the middle-class, however much you either think or fear you can. She does also make the point that middle-class people are as stuck as others and have disadvantages too, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve tried to maintain the class system, certainly not to promote the leadership of the country by the aristocracy, but I probably have been well-meaning, blundering and patronising, and if I’ve done that to any working class-identifying people, I’m sorry.

The author lays out how the working class – often now referred to at least in part as the underclass in order to keep them down and despised – is trapped by poor investment and a lack of larger-picture thinking, so that there’s a mismatch between god social housing and jobs, for example. Her discussions with an old middle-class friend, met at sixth form college, are poignant, and her explanations of why and how people get trapped and seem not to care or to want to free themselves compelling and upsetting.

The only problem really here is that I can’t see what can be done about this, so it’s a dispiriting read: in “bettering” herself, Hanley has left herself poised in a terrible balance, never able to go back home, but also feeling like an imposter in her new class. It seems so eternal and damning, and that’s fine, maybe it is. Maybe I got so depressed reading it that I missed the solutions, however I am now more aware of what is being manipulated in the media, and why some people act the way I do. I hope I always had compassion, and I’m not one of the patronising throng!

An interesting read that I’m glad I tackled, and I don’t feel I’ve done it justice here unfortunately.


I feel like this isn’t a good review and I might even delete it, so I’m going to save the pretty books for tomorrow, as it seems trite to display my conspicuous consumption here, as well. I’ve read Allison Pearson’s new novel now, too: backlog time!