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Union Street

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  716 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Vivid, bawdy and bitter' (The Times), Pat Barker's first novel shows the women of Union Street, young and old, meeting the harsh challeges of poverty and survival in a precarious world. There's Kelly, at eleven, neglected and independent, dealing with a squalid rape; Dinah, knocking on sixty and still on the game; Joanne, not yet twenty, not yet married, and already ...more
Paperback, 265 pages
Published 1982 by Virago Press (UK)
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Aug 08, 2012 Joyce added it
Union Street is absolute gold. Wikipedia says that Pat Barker shopped this novel around to publishers for 10 years and was rejected by all until she finally sent it to Virago Press who knew the value of an honest book about women. I think the other publishers rejected it because the women and girls in these inter connected stories don't act the way publishers assume we want them to act. A case in point is Iris, who I guess is the character on whom the movie Stanley and Iris is based, but very lo ...more
Jul 26, 2007 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-fiction
This was like Dubliners, if Dubliners was written in the 1980s about English women living in poverty in the 1970s, and it didn't suck.

Ahaha, Joyce fans, shoot me now. But there's no love lost between me and James Joyce.

Moving on... it was very interesting structurally. The writing was peppered with some colloquial syntax/diction, but not so much that it overpowered the story - it wasn't like trying to read Trainspotting (which I had to read out loud to myself). But the structure - it told the s
Jan 28, 2012 Tina rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard Gardner
Jan 10, 2014 Richard Gardner rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. The story is about a half a dozen women living in the same street. All are at a different stage in their lives & consequently their problems are different. From the young teenager who is raped, to the old lady who is very sick & expects to die soon. Pat Barker seems to get inside the minds of all of her heroines & has an easy stile that is very readable.
Oct 10, 2016 Carol rated it really liked it
Although best known for her wonderful 'Regeneration' trilogy and 'Life Class' novels, 'Union St' is her first. Published in 1982, it tells the stories of 7 women living interlinked lives in industrial Union St. These vividly characterised working class women have little beauty or joy in their lives, but they survive all the ugliness of poverty, loveless sex and illness, without a shred of self-pity and Barker, thankfully, never sentimentalises. Difficult to choose the most impressive; probably ...more
I wasn't expecting this book. Written in 1982 it is perhaps one of the most modern of the Virago modern classics, and completely different in tone and in subject from the rest.

This book is about the residents of Union Street. Seven interlinked stories about seven residents of the working class street located near a cake factory, a railway, an engineering works and a river. I can't say when the book is set, but nowhere is there mention of a television, or radio. No-one owns a car, and baths are m
Aug 18, 2012 Gillian rated it it was amazing
One of my all time favourites read and re-read. Very gritty and extremely atmospheric, it stays in the mind a long time. The themes are very adult and the depiction of hard, working class characters in a deprived industrial area leaves nothing to the imagination. Elements of the story are very disturbing but addressed in a way as to be thought evoking. The 'Union Street' of the title may be the North East (Teesside I guess, around 1972) but this is no Catherine Cookson.
I understand this is Pat
Jul 28, 2015 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit
A bleak but moving book. Pat Barker's first novel explores the lives and struggles of a group of women in the same ordinary street. Each chapter tells the story of one woman, and these stories are loosely linked.
Dave J
Nov 10, 2016 Dave J rated it it was ok
This was one of the toughest books I've ever read. Actually I didn't finish it, I found it too depressing. I come from the North East and am old enough to just about recognise the general street scene portrayed but I would have had only glimpses of the lives of working class women of the era. Looking at it with political spectacles on, while I'm not doubting that there are women with lives like that nowadays, it felt like a bygone era and I felt like a voyeur. In contrast, in the same week I ...more
Maureen Palmer
Nov 20, 2016 Maureen Palmer rated it really liked it
I read The Regeneration Trilogy some years ago and loved it. When I realised Union Street was Pat Barker's first book, I had to read it. So different! At first, I thought she was writing about the 30's but it seems some were living that kind of life in the 70's!
It isn't a book about heroic women. It's about real women warts and all and all the more moving for it. The book could have been disjointed. I personally don't like books that devote chapters to different characters but this flowed beauti
Nov 26, 2016 Kathi rated it really liked it
Another university read. I liked the concept of the book. Different (in age as well) women telling their view while living together on the same street. Although the first story really isn't easy to get and to read, the book gets the grip of telling a story.
Nov 27, 2016 Wilma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rauw...keihard...mooi en intens...worden de levensverhalen van zeven meisjes/vrouwen, woonachtig in een afbraakbuurt van een Noordengelse industriestad, verteld. Levensecht en met humor doorspekte verhalen, raken je recht in je ziel. Aanrader!!
Who wants to read a book about working class women and girls who live in squalor in the back avenues of an industrial city north east of London?

Well, I do.

See, my hand is raised?

Still I’m not everybody.

Hollywood couldn’t handle what Barker was trying to convey in the pages of this book because in 1990 they released it as a sweet romance story called Stanley & Iris, starring Jane Fonda and Robert De Niro. In the film Fonda and De Niro play two working class individuals who are at a stands
Oct 03, 2016 Dianne rated it liked it
WOmen's mum would have loved it.
Jul 28, 2016 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1945-literature
This book tells the story of a street and the women who live on it, in a northern English town in the 1980s. Barker constructs a network of relationships between and within the households on Union Street, with each woman dealing with her own difficulties and hardships behind closed doors. More than anything this is a book about the life-stages of the female body - from the first period or childbirth to the marriage bed and later, the injustice of ageing. In each chapter she manages to narrate an ...more
Aug 02, 2011 Jo added it
this was pat barker's first novel and it shows that her writing talent has always been consistent! she conjures up union street through the cleverly interweaving stories of 7 women who live there, each one stands alone as an excellent short story in its own right and they provide a chronology of womanhood, starting with 11 yr old Kelly and going through first pregnancy, third birth, marital problems, issues of sex and money including poverty, rape, prostitution and abortion, until the elderly ...more
Sharlotte Halls
Aug 15, 2011 Sharlotte Halls rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book: gritty but sensitive, alarming but also oddly familiar. Organised into seven chapters, each of which deals with a snapshot of the life of a different woman who lives in Union Street (set in the Industrial North East), Pat Barker's book gives a detailed, poignant account of each their struggles. Generally it is quite a depressing read, and some of the scenes describing sexual or physical violence, though brief, can be harrowing: however I could not put this book down as ...more
Jul 14, 2007 Tony rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: If you like Vera Drake movie or are interested in realities of life in C20th industrial England.
I first discovered the works of Pat Barker when reading her Regeneration trilogy which dealt with the difficulties of troops in WW1 suffering from the then unknown problem of shell-shock.
This book is set sometime in the 1950s/60s (I think, it may even be the early 70's) and deals with the harsh realities of surviving in a grim industrial city in the North East of England. It focuses mostly on the women and how they survive and function, keeping both themselves and their families going through on
Alison Brownlee
Apr 13, 2014 Alison Brownlee rated it really liked it
I picked this up on a whim I was looking for something to fill the gap left by 'Call the Midwife.' What you have here is a story about love, poverty and misfortune that does sit with you even after you have put it down. There are women and young girls in the stories that you just think what are you doing but then it was all a different time and peoples attitudes where so different. It is very much of its time and as a debut novel was really well written, the characters, setting and accents where ...more
Aug 22, 2013 Sharyn rated it it was amazing
The style of this book reminded me very much of Maeve Binchy - individual chapters dealing with separate but interwoven characters all living on Union Street. But it is Maeve Binchy with a real edge. Fantastic writing, a great piece of its time - the mid 1970s - dealing with a generation of women who stayed with their husbands for the sake of the children, barely tolerated sex and accepted the occasional beating. Their daughters are more savvy (or so we are led to believe). I had only read the ...more
Jul 05, 2014 Sarah rated it it was ok
Trying to think of better adjectives than meh but none really come to mind. Between 2 and 3 stars but being stingy because I did find it a bit crass. On one hand I did enjoy the insight into another world - of impoverished 60s England - and the mix of characters presented, but I also want exactly gripped, and I didn't like how you couldn't get to know the characters due to the shifting viewpoint... Mind you, I'd have gotten fed up with the voices of most of the characters so I can't be too ...more
Apr 22, 2016 Fiona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a way this is almost as bleak as Regeneration in that it seems to cover a lot of grim areas of the characters' lives. There's something about the way that she describes things that stops it from seeming manipulative or drifting too much into despair though so it ends up being less heavy to read than I expected from the first couple of chapters. It's also pretty impressive how much of an image of the characters you get from these small snippets of their lives. That did make me wish this book ...more
Jun 15, 2012 Cathy rated it it was amazing
I first read Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy, the third book, The Ghost Road, won the Mann Booker Prize. Her descriptions of war should be required reading at the military academies, and for the populous at large. Union Street is her first novel and it is magnificent. It is the story of working class women living on a particular street in industrial England in the 70s. The circumstances and the dialog capture the pain of being just above the lowest of the low. The novel is dark but does offer ...more
Aug 20, 2013 Heidi rated it it was amazing
Riveted all the way through, with searing images and insights, like this one: "Her home. They were taking it away from her. The dirt and disorder, the signs of malnutrition and neglect which to them were reasons for putting her away were, to her, independence. She had fought to keep for herself the conditions of a human life. She was calm again. What she wanted was simple. She wanted to die with dignity. She wanted to die in her own home..."

Sure puts me in mind of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye
Jan 30, 2012 Michele rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
i first read this collection of short stories in high school and i've been obsessed with them ever since. found a used copy in a secondhand bookstore on charing cross road. came home practically bouncing up and down. it was just as i remembered - incredible, beautifully written stories about hard women in hard circumstances. the first story is just gorgeous. pat barker is an amazing writer. and it's astounding to read these stories after living in england and really learning the difference ...more
Jan 12, 2008 Hannah rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book. Each chapter dealing with a different girl or woman, all living on the same working-class, northern street in the 1970s. They lead lives of deprivation, hardship, poverty, abuse but are shown to be strong despite it all, keeping their families together and providing for them. Many passages of the novel make upsetting and uncomfortable reading. In a different vein to the author's other novels but very realistic and effective.
Sarah Chantler
Mar 07, 2013 Sarah Chantler rated it really liked it
A well written gritty book telling the story of 7 women who all live in poverty in the same street in the 1970. Each has their own tale to tell starting with a young girl who is brutally raped, each character getting older each time and ending with the sad decline and death of Old Alice, whose impending death and fear of going into a home drives her to take matters into her own hands.
A great read!
Nikki Plummer
Mar 12, 2015 Nikki Plummer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
Another one from my Contemporary Women’s Writing module. This book is horrible but really really good. If that makes sense. It reads more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but it’s about a group of working class women in the 1970s, and they all have really grim lives and horrible things happen to them. Not a cheery book by any stretch of the world, but it’s really compelling.
Aug 18, 2008 Tracey rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: book group, Julia, Natalie
I bought this book at the legendary Powell's Book Store in Portland in 2003. Just now read it and loved it. Stories of the very difficult lives of several different women living in poverty and trying to make ends meet and dreaming of raising their standard of living. Not a book to read when you want to feel light and happy! I would like to read more of Barker's books.
Brenda Kittelty
Oct 25, 2013 Brenda Kittelty rated it it was amazing
I can forgive that some of the characters were a tad stereotypical because of the perfect insight we are given to their innermost thoughts, feelings, motivations, fears and hopes. I know it was meant to be set in the 70's but it could have been the 30's (apart from the odd bit of technology) or anywhere in between. Just fabulous.
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Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics.

Her books include the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy Regeneration ; The Eye in the Door , winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize; and The Ghost Road , winner of the Booker Prize; as well as seven other novels. Pat Barker is married and lives in
More about Pat Barker...

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