What a great story; an intriguing drama set against the back drop of a significant time in modern history. The novel intertwines the loves and lives of a mining community with the challenges the industry faced to survive. Exciting and at times heart-wrenchingly moving, the story will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens to Jim, Mad Jack, little Martin and the rest of the characters as they each, in their own way, deal with the twists and turns that this amazing adventure throws at them.
Set in the mid-1980’s, a time of tumultuous change for Britain. Like “The Stars Look Down”, the novel is set in two different worlds; the underground world of Britain’s collieries and the surface world of its mining communities. Just as the miners did in real-life, the action switches between underground, surface and external environments.
Two miners play their parts in trying to save not just their colliery but their industry. Jim, a young mining engineer and colliery manager, and Paul, a fitter, face formidable challenges underground at Whitacre Heath, a fictitious pit village and mine. When the Miners’ Strike breaks out the book covers the human drama of the impacts on relationships, far better than any soap opera.
The action takes place in two fictitious pit villages, one in the South Midlands the other in Barnsley, the latter being home to a crew of flying pickets. As they struggle their way through the strike I gained a real understanding of the history of the Strike from the author’s balanced treatment of the event. By the time you have read the account of the Battle of Orgreave, you will know why it was given that name.
The account of the challenges faced underground before, during and after the Strike give a fascinating insight into what it was like to work down there. With the last of Britain’s deep mines having closed, The Enemy Within will provide the lasting and definitive picture of what it was like to work in the country’s deep mines in the late Twentieth Century; the conditions, the culture and the comradeship.
The characters are believable and engaging, some larger than life – but that’s probably what miners could be like. Although I was expecting the novel to portray pretty much a ‘man’s world’, there’s some really strong female personalities portrayed who play key parts in the tale with some of the characters’ stories intertwining with Dickensian twists.
This affectionate record of that extraordinary way of life has moments of hilarious comedy to balance some tragic dramatic events and developments. As the strike develops the pace accelerates – and the last part is a rip-roaring adventure that keeps you riveted, right to the end.
I can’t wait for the sequel!
Mr MacNeil Wilson has evidently spent considerable time researching this book and writing it from his own personal experience. It's a novel replaying the circumstances of the 1980s miners' strike from the point of view of the men underground. Not many people are qualified to present such a perspective but this author has used his first-hand knowledge as the basis for an insight into the beginning of the end for what is now more or less a dead industry. If you remember the miners' strike, or if you're simply interested in learning more about what it was like to work day to day thousands of feet underground, you should read The Enemy Within.
A fascinating novel and something quite different ...
Someone in my book club suggested that we read “The Enemy Within”. We had recently been to see Jeremy Deller’s conceptual art film of the re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave at Worcester Gallery and it had given us a lot of room for thought about the way that society had dealt with the striking miners fighting for their industry. Then of course we have recently seen the amazingly powerful and thought-provoking documentaries “The Last Miners” on BBC, which showed how strong a way of life mining was, so it set the scene for this novel based in the mining community.
It looks a big book, but it reads very easily and I found a real rhythm to the story and the development of the key characters. There is a great warmth of character and a lot of humour, humour which is obviously a key part of the miners’ attitude to life.
The conflicting stands taken by the miners in the strike cause painful family splits and the whole family becomes embroiled in the hardships but the tough characters keep the book quite positive.
Although the mining operations and machinery are described in some detail, I found it quite easy to absorb just enough to make it possible to understand the situation and to follow the excitement of the various dangers they faced. The book gathers speed with an accumulation of problems and risks that the main characters have to tackle in order to keep the mine open and their families secure.
I expected “The Enemy Within” to be a bit macho and heavy-going, but found it to be a gentle and kind exploration of a very colourful and powerful community; alas, one which has been destroyed in this country for good.
by Judith Pritchard
A great first novel set in turbulent times from an author writing from the heart based on his personal experiences.
'The Enemy Within' is a well crafted and extremely readable novel set during one of the most turbulent political, social and industrial times in the recent history of the UK. The story which takes place during the period of the 1984 Miner’s Strike runs at a pace and benefits considerably from well researched and personal experiences of the author covering both the technical and social side of the Coal Mining Industry. An Industry which was at the time, the object of much maligned and inaccurate media coverage and severe financial pressure from the Thatcher government who were intent on reducing the perceived stranglehold the Miners had over the UK Economy.
The book covers in exciting detail the hazardous process of extracting coal from deep under the countryside of North Warwickshire from coal seams of as little as 18 inches high. This at first may seem daunting reading but is essential to a full understanding of the nature of the dangerous task of extracting coal from deep mines and the background to this gripping underground and surface based adventure. The various tasks performed by the miners and the names attached to these roles are described in a comprehensive set of guidance notes and a glossary of terms; essential and fascinating to a reader not familiar with the technicalities of the industry.
The absorbing and fast moving story set within this framework is very much human and heartfelt way in which it covers the relationships between miners, managers and their wives and the humour, customs and culture unique to the mining industry. Mr MacNeil Wilson is an astute and sensitive observer of these relationships as no doubt they are based on his own personal experiences. It is also a reminder of the harsh divisions that that bitter dispute produced in the mining community.
I REALLY enjoyed this book! I finished it on a recent holiday and was then struggling to find something as engrossing to replace it! When is the next in the series due??!! I would recommend it to all who have an interest not only in the Coal Mining Industry but in the social and political history of the UK during the period of the Miner’s Strike.
by Jack Butler
Robert graduated in mining engineering from the University of Nottingham. He is a chartered engineer, rock musician and novelist.
When only 24 years old, he was in charge of a coalface, half a mile underground in one of Warwickshire’s mines. Whilst living in a pit village during the Miners’ Strike, he was in sole charge of his pit and had to deal with several incidents when it was besieged by hordes of pickets.