Holiday: Stanley Middleton

We tend to think of a holiday as a pleasant, relaxing perhaps occasionally harried affair, but in Stanley Middleton’s Holiday, following the death of his son and a subsequent separation from his wife, Meg, 32-year-old married university lecturer, Edwin Fisher returns to his old childhood haunts, and the memories of holidays spent with his parents.  This is a melancholy novel in which Edwin, with a great deal of solitary time on his hands, finds his mind returning to his father, and dwelling on the relationships between fathers and sons.


As we pass through various experiences, we often reevaluate our parents as human beings. Edwin’s parents are dead and it’s only now that “he admitted his parents’ virtues.” Edwin “never fathomed” his mother while she was alive, and for a time he “hated” his parents “for the shopkeepers they were.” Both Edwin and his sister (now a doctor) are “class-jumping offspring” who left their parents far behind. Thinking back on his relationship with his father, Edwin realises that Arthur Fisher was an enigma.

Fisher never sorted out his father’s views on education, and could make little sense of them now. Both children went to university, and though Arthur grumbled about expense he paid up. Nor did he seem to envy their expertise. His magpie mind stored snippets of information with which he gleefully caught his offspring out, but he never attempted to organise or coordinate his knowledge into a system.

Now that Fisher is old enough to grasp the subtleties of his relationship with his parents, he can appreciate them more, but it’s too late to modify his relationship with them. Similarly, Fisher’s son remains an unknown, an undeveloped personality frozen in time. Treading over his childhood haunts, Fisher recalls the holidays he spent with his parents.

Coincidentally (or not) Fisher runs into his in-laws who just happen to be staying in the same seaside town (in a posher hotel). Meg’s father, David Vernon, a solicitor who, in his line of work, sees marriages collapse daily, wishes that the couple would reconcile.

We also see Fisher’s (annoying) wife, Meg, both in the present and in recollection. At one point, Fisher wonders if he should have paid heed to certain “early signs” in her behaviour. Fisher sifts through his memories as though he will find the answer to his unhappiness there, but there’s also the present: a second rate little hotel where he observes fellow guests, walks on the promenade and exchanges a few words with other, often unhappy, holiday makers.

This is a quiet, restrained melancholy novel. While I enjoyed Fisher’s encounters and recollections, the novel’s male characters are better realised than their female counterparts. But perhaps this was deliberate.

And here’s Karen’s review at Bookertalk



Filed under Fiction, Middleton Stanley

17 responses to “Holiday: Stanley Middleton

  1. Even the name Stanley Middleton suggests quiet and restraint.

  2. I love the sound of this! There’s something about melancholic English novels set by England’s melancholic seas. (Like McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, or Murdoch’s The sea the sea, or John Banville’s Irish-set The sea. Loved that – I think it won the Booker too.)

    Anyhow, I liked that phrase ““class-jumping offspring”! I’m sure this upward mobility has caused more than usual generation gap ructions in many families, but then I think a lot of us go through a phase of resenting or being angry with our parents in our late teens and twenties, only to come to a maturer understanding of them as adults. It’s a shame when that happens too late for the relationship to move into a new phase.

    • Yes it is a shame. Some of the best parts of the novel were, IMO, the remembered scenes of his dad (these were very strong indeed) and then the scenes w his father–in-law. These men were both very defined personalities/characters. Loved them and wanted more. Wish the rest of the novel could have been so strong.

  3. This melancholy novel hit a nerve with me, too. I posted on it a few years ago:
    after Ali’s recommendation

  4. Funnily enough, this been on one of my wishlists for a while, ever since it was re-issued over here a few years ago. Quiet, melancholy novels are usually my thing, but your closing comments on the female characters are giving me pause. Hmm…do you think I’d take to it or not?

  5. I think I enjoyed it more than you did Guy but I do agree that the male characters were more fully fleshed out

  6. It also reminds me of Chesil Beach.

    PS: I wonder how many books you have with the miserable marriages tag.

  7. I think one of the big problems I have with the book is that Fisher is a rather passive character while his father and father in law are very strong characters. I have a problem with passive characters.
    And the answer; a lot

  8. It does sound good but I always find it disappointing when an author doesn’t get both genders.

  9. I have this but haven’t read it yet. Back when Sam Jordison of the Guardian did a series reviewing all the past Booker winners (worth reading), he singled this out as one of the least well remembered and in his view one of the most deserving winners.

    It does sound a very quiet novel, which of course can be powerful but is also perhaps more subject to the tides of literary fashion. This sort of internally contemplative creature I think has been out for a while, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come back.

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