Three Stories of England in the Eighties
Mike Robbins’ “Three Seasons” is a collection of three novellas whose main connection is the place and time in which they are set: England in the 1980’s, a decade of particular flux and instability. Ushered in with the election of conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (in 1979) the 80’s in England were a time of enormous social and political change. Think race riots, the death of punk and rise of New Wave, massive strikes and union struggles, and high unemployment.
“Three Seasons,” however, is not about politics nor is it directly about social upheaval. It contains the stories of three men whose only connection is that they are living in England at the same time. Each short novel offers a snapshot into their lives and each does something that many longer novels attempt but do not achieve: tell the stories of individuals while capturing the ethos of a particular time. Indeed, that ethos is integral to the stories here, though it is never directly referenced.
“Spring” is about a middle aged man who feels as though he’s at the end of life or at least that life no longer has much to offer him. “Summer” sees a young man trying to make his fortune in real estate and “Autumn” is about a professor forced to look at his past by the events of his present. In that way, the novellas, as a whole, are able to evoke what a turning point the 1980’s were in England. A character who is stuck, a character moving forward without a thought for how his actions impact others and a character ruminating on what things were like years before are stand-ins for the climate and mood of the time.
That the three novellas are so evocative is due in large part to Robbins’ ability to craft characters who are dimensional, complicated and engaging. These three men from are, in some ways, reminiscent George Babbitt, the Sinclair Lewis protagonist who came to symbolize a particular type of American man in the 1920’s. Not in terms of the when and where – Robbins’ characters have very little in common with Babbitt – but in their ability to embody the particular spirit and atmosphere of a time and place. Reading “Three Seasons” allows the reader to experience a moment when England was embarking on enormous change through the stories of three ordinary English men. It is not overstating to say that the ability to write absorbing stories with multi-dimensional characters while simultaneously creating such a strong sense of an era is the sign of a great deal of talent.
About Mike Robbins
Mike Robbins is a former journalist and development worker who, in addition to “Three Seasons,” has written 2 travel memoirs, a novel and a scientific book on climate change. He has lived and volunteered all over the world: from Sudan to Bhutan to Syria, Belgium and Italy. He was born and grew up in England and currently lives in New York, NY.