There was a photo from Kes – alternately of the Barry Hines novel A Kestrel for a Knave – in the Guardian recently. I have already forgotten what the article was about. But when I saw it, it suddenly hit me why I never liked Kes.
I know one is not supposed to say that. It was a set book at university, and I dutifully read it, understood little enough and disliked it. Not only because of its lack of a happy ending, but more that I couldn’t comprehend how a family could be like that. I understand now that I was very lucky not to know how families can be, but I didn’t then.
In fact, the trouble for me was class. I knew about class, I suppose, but class in Sweden doesn’t manifest itself in the same way, and it had never been anything I thought a lot about. I never felt it was all that obvious. True, some of us had less money and smaller homes, but [I thought] we were mostly all the same.
What’s more, with the help of the BBC, I knew for a fact that in England everyone had stepped out of an Agatha Christie/Enid Blyton book. And Kes didn’t fit the bill. There was no chintz and no good manners. I just didn’t know what to do with what I found in Kes.
The easiest thing was to dislike it.
I had read – older – Swedish working class novels. Mostly because I had to and less because I wanted to. And I must have assumed that things were tough in those books because it had happened some time ago, i.e. it wasn’t life as we knew it ‘now.’ But whatever was in them, it always felt as if it was closer to my own life than not.