September 24, 1979 12:00 PM

by Don Bannister

The next worst thing to being trapped in a mine is to be trapped in a mining town. That is the premise of this powerful first novel, set in the north of England at the outbreak of World War II. Working conditions are appalling, the pit owners unscrupulous and the union bigwigs self-serving; by comparison, How Green Was My Valley seems like a pastoral tale. But there’s light of sorts at the end of the tunnel. In often moving prose, the author captures the camaraderie that makes existence bearable in the mine shaft. Aboveground the leavener is sex—funny, touching and brutally honest. The book’s episodic structure weakens the impact of its hero, Sam Chard, but the North Country idiom, while not always easy to follow, has the ring of harsh reality. So does the novel’s depiction of the colliers’ resilience. One wonders not that miners go out on strike, but that they ever go back to their cruel work. (Knopf, $8.95)

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