Van has finished reading…Paradise Alley by Sylvester Stallone

23 May

Yes. That Sylvester Stallone. No, don’t make that face.

I first read Paradise Alley over twenty years ago on a recommendation from Mrs Van. Of course I made that face and dithered but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the intervening years it’s that there’s a look Mrs Van has that brooks no prevarication. Don’t judge, she said, just read it. And that’s good advice.

The fact of the matter is that it’s a great story. It breaks no moulds in what it sets out to do. It’s not prose to stop you in your tracks so you can marvel at its construction. It’s not setting out to win prizes or change your view of the world. It just wants to show you post-war Hell’s Kitchen. It talks in simple language that fits the station of the defined characters (that you might well end up rooting for despite yourself), and it gives you a story arc that could’ve been pulled from the pages of a history book. Okay, there are one or two affectations in the writing that, for my money, would’ve been better edited out. There’s a tendency every now and then to break a sentence over three lines that lifts you right out of the scene. There’s a tendency to overuse names, too where at times a simple he or she wouldn’t have left any doubt about who it referred to. The strange thing about this one though is that after a time I felt it added to the sense of claustrophobia, the sense of helplessness that pervades the book. And just about everybody is helpless in this book, though it’s not through want of trying. The sense of time and place is strong and Stallone’s scene-setting is solid. There are also moments where a single sentence paints the clearest image.


…a bum sitting in the gutter trying to find out where he dropped his future.
It’s at once descriptive and emotional. It’s wholly in keeping with the voices of the characters in the scene, and it’s a line beneath the unwritten, ‘there but for the grace of God…’ As a writer, those are the lines you work for. And when it comes to Big Glory’s swan-song, well, you’ll be hard-pressed to keep a dry eye there I suspect.


I try not to be snobby about books. I am now old enough to know better on that score. Books should be given a chance. Someone went to a lot of trouble to write what you hold in your hand. If you’ve ever tried to write one you’ll have an idea just how much trouble. If you’ve ever tried to write anything halfway decent you’ll know. To dismiss that effort out-of-hand, to bypass it because of the general consensus or what others might think is to diminish that. Give it a go. That’s the price of admission. With your summer holidays coming up it’s an ideal book to add to the pile. And if having tried it you find it’s not for you, well, fair enough. But you might just find yourself surprised.
Paradise Alley was published by WH Allen in the UK in 1978 ISBN: 0491022549


You can find Sylvester Stallone on Twitter @TheSlyStallone, though he’s more widely-known for things other than his novel.


One Response to “Van has finished reading…Paradise Alley by Sylvester Stallone”


  1. My top five reads of 2016 | vanisreading - 10/01/2017

    […] I managed two: Chinua Achebe’s wonderful Things Fall Apart and Sylvester Stallone’s compelling Paradise Alley. You might think we’re looking at opposite ends of the spectrum there but actually there’s a […]

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