Society is often talked about as a ladder, which you can climb from bottom to top. The walls are less talked about. This book is about how people try to get over them, what it means if they do, and how class affects all of us.
In autumn 1992, growing up on a vast Birmingham estate, the sixteen-year-old Lynsey Hanley went to sixth-form college. She knew that it would change her life but was entirely unprepared for the price she would have to pay: to leave behind her working-class world and become middle class.
Class remains resolutely with us, as strongly present as it was fifty years ago. Entwined with it is the idea of aspiration, of social mobility, which received wisdom tells us is an unequivocally positive phenomenon for individuals and for society as a whole. Yet for the many millions who experience it, changing class is like emigrating from one side of the world to the other, a lonely, anxious, psychologically disruptive process of uprooting, which leaves people divided between the place they left and the place they have to inhabit in order to get on. In this empathic, wry and passionate exploration of class in Britain today, Lynsey Hanley looks at how people are kept apart, and keep themselves apart - and the costs involved in the journey from 'there' to 'here'.
Why is class still so central to the experience of living in Britain? It is an urgent question, evaded through a kind of collective shame, but Lynsey Hanley approaches it with wit and passion. Respectable is pithy and provoking, spiced with the personal but solidly grounded in a lifetime's experience of analysing the world around her. It is one of those valuable books that enables the reader to re-think her past and re-experience her own life.
Honest, brave and moving, Respectable opens up the emotional experience of navigating across class boundaries in an unequal world.
Ambitious, impressive... There is fury contained within the pages and between the lines of Respectable... an intelligent and important book that deserves to be widely read.
Hanley vividly describes the "risky, lonely journey" she undertook from one class to another... She is tremendous at detailing her personal transition.