The Good Lion
If there was any justice in this world, The Good Lion would be regarded as a classic of mid-century English Literature: one of the best coming of age novels, and Doherty would be held up as a remarkable working class writer, alongside, if not better than Sillitoe, Waterhouse, Barstow and Storey. The Good Lion is in fact a far more accomplished piece of writing than Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a better study of coming-of-age masculinity and emotional conflict than This Sporting Life, and yet it has been forgotten.
The Good Lion follows the story of Walt Morris, setting out on a life of his own, with his looking-after-number-one outlook on life: he is a “good lion” ̶ a lion that kills a deer not being a “bad lion.”
Set against the backdrop of post-war Sheffield (although the city is never named), Walt tries to work out for himself the problems of living in the age of the hydrogen bomb, the cold war and satellites, and comes to realise that his good lion philosophy has flaws, as life and relationships mould him into an adult.
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2023 marks the forty-year anniversary of Len Doherty’s death at his own hand. 1889 Books ambitiously sets out to elevate Len to where he belongs: in the pantheon of mid-twentieth century working class writers, alongside, if not above, the likes of Alan Sillitoe and David Storey. It is our contention that The Good Lion is the greatest novel set in Sheffield, and better than the works of the Angry Young Men who followed him. Surprised? Then you are challenged to read it and explain why you disagree.
It is all the more remarkable when you realize that Len left school at fourteen and fitted his writing in between shifts at the coalface and in a house with four young children, writing in three thousand word bursts, apparently sometimes going without sleep.
Front page of Sheffield Telegraph