Anatomy of a Book: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe

I suppose they thought I was just the build for it because I was long and skinny for my age (and still am) and in any case I didn’t mind it much, to tell you the trust, because running had always been made much of in our family, especially running away from the police. (p.7)

When the faculty teaches writing, they say to keep sentences short, to describe and not tell, and to limit the use of “I” in any piece.

If only ‘them’ and ‘us’ had the same ideas we’d get on like a house on fire… (p.7)

This award winning short-story breaks many of those writing rules, as it is a piece with a specific intention.

I laughed so much one morning I went down ten minutes in my timing… (p.13)

It shows the mindset of a life-time criminal, yet does so with classic story elements.

Changing Status:

The criminal is a long-distance runner. He excels at the task, and wagers will be made by the governor of his detention facility on the runner’s success. The power therefore is with the runner and his ability to control the race, and the runner know this.

High Stakes:

The governor could limit the life of the runner. The runner knows the risks and is honest in his responses to his situation. This question of honesty is interesting, as it asks what the meaning of the word “honesty” is to the law makers and law breakers.

Page Turner:

For a short story the pressure is not continuous. This is an exercise looking at the mindset of a life-time criminal. The story is hooked on analysing a character, rather than exploring events or situation. The book is in part, while it has risks, about why the character will not change despite the belief of the government.

Believable Characters:

There is much detail in the thought and actions of the lead character so the reader feels they can see their mindset.


What is the world like for a criminal from the slums of Nottingham? What do they feel about their actions? Would they even consider themselves to be breaking any law, to be a criminal, to even live in a slum?


One thought on “Anatomy of a Book: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe

  1. I wrote my own review of this on my own book blog a month or two ago! I must say, I preferred some of Sillitoe’s other short stories but I found Loneliness… really interesting because of its eye-opening experience of Borstal life. – Judith 😊

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