Set in the fictional pit village of Litten, The Litten Path charts the trials and tribulations of the Newman family during the 1984 miners strike. The novel, though told from multiple points of view, centres on Lawrence the Newman’s teenage son, Arthur his ne’r-do-well father, and Shell his long suffering mother.
The novel opens with Arthur and a hesitant Lawrence breaking into Threndle House and stealing a clock and a rug. The rug turns out to be infected with moths which cause untold damage to the Newman household.
Threndle House is currently being rented by Clive Swarsby a disgraced conservative politician who still harbours high political ambition. Swarsby is accompanied by his children, a boy and a girl both of school age, both tutored at home. For the children, so used to cosmopolitan London, Litten and the north are almost an alien country. They are far removed from all they are familiar.
Worlds collide. Rural meets urban. The local encounters the outsider. Tradition is faced with economic modernity both of which are mutually hostile and antagonistic. Ultimately, as in all battles, there can only be one winner and that is why from the vantage point of time the ending is somewhat poignant.
Central to the novel is the Battle of Orgreave where Lawrence travels with Het his uncle. Het is a union man true and true. Proud of his heritage of the fact he was a miner, carrying on the family tradition of going down the pit.
“It was what he’d always wanted, to be like his ancestors, valorous in the heat, working the rock. Dirty hands, clean wage.”
In contrast Arthur wants his son to forgo the pit, leave it behind and aim for higher things. He will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure a better life for his son. For all Arthur’s shortcomings it is still possible to have some sympathy for him. In his own distorted manner he loves his family though his actions do not always have the desired results.
The Litten Path, then, can be said to be a coming of age novel. Lawrence emerges from childhood to the violent and uncompromising adult world. He is forced to make choices, does he remain as he is or follow the Litten path out of the village and forge his own destiny? Britain comes of age in the new model of economic liberalism where society goes out the window. Throughout the writing is deceptively subtle. The language flows between the colloquial and literary refusing to get bogged down in either. James Clarke has written a novel in a style that is as memorable as it is unique.
Any Cop?: This wonderful novel can proudly take its place in the fiery northern literary renaissance.