Henry Page is the editor of a small town newspaper. Henry’s own father, grandfather, and great-grandfather also managed this local newspaper; it is his heritage and he feels strongly the need to preserve the traditions of the past.
“This was Henry’s passion, his religion, if you like, his obsession: the England that was, and must one day be again. With quiet sincerity he loved his country, the texture of its earth, the very salt of the sea that washed it. He was not blind to the deterioration which, since the war, had changed the structure of the national life.”
Not pretentious or proud in the least, Henry is a man with simple tastes:
“He liked his garden, and grew rather fine pelargoniums in his little greenhouse; poking around for bits of the old Stafford china he collected was another mild diversion; and he took immense pleasure in arranging the autumn orchestral concerts he had introduced to Hedleston and which were now an annual feature of the town…”
However, Henry’s quiet life is about to change. Henry refuses a purchase offer from a large sensationalist news conglomerate, and his refusal results in a series of attacks designed to force closure of the paper.
Henry is not a particularly strong personality and yet when all he holds dear is threatened, he finds the ability to dig in and come up with creative solutions to keep going. As the attacks against the paper become more frequent and more intense, Henry holds his ground and perseveres against all odds.
“How could any man let himself be coerced and bullied out of his rights? I couldn’t submit to it then. And I can’t give up now. Even if I am beaten, though I still feel I won’t be, I must go on to the end.”
“The Northern Light” is a fast-paced book that I found hard to put down. After I read it (and read some reviews), I could understand why some stated that they had also read it within one day.
I enjoyed the characters Cronin created; Henry’s less-than-sympathetic wife Alice, his sensitive nervy son David and wife Cora. One cannot help but sympathise with Henry as he not only navigates the difficulties of a threatened livelihood but also an unhappy home life and a shallow marriage:
“…she put aside aside the crossword and took up her needlepoint. Presently, between stitches, she began an account of the afternoon party she had attended, describing those present, the dresses, the hats, gloves and varying hairdos, and epic to which,through long experience, Page was able to close his ears while giving the appearance of a sympathetic auditor.”
I loved this book until I came to the ending. However if nothing else, it portrays the consequence of choice. Leonard Nye, the ‘villain’ in the story, is just as stubborn as Henry; just as determined to win, and his unscrupulous methods have their tragic result. The importance of the press and the effects that sensationalist literature on humanity is also illustrated.
I enjoyed this synopsis of the author that I came across in one review:
‘Cronin’s stories continually grapple with the idealistic integration of religious faith and the world of modern science and medicine. His protagonists enter a world that is often antagonistic to their faith, and where the division between different religions is sometimes acute. These protagonists aim to better the world they live in and to serve their fellow human beings with honor and dignity’.
AJ Cronin was a medical officer-turned-author. After his publishing success (more than seven million copies of his books sold in the United States alone), he had this to say:
”I think there are very few giants. All the good writers are being swept away in a melancholic, oppressive and depressive philosophy. They don’t seem to have the stimulation of – I won’t say the Christian ethic – but they seem to have no light to guide them.”
I wonder what he would say about literature today?