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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 20 February 2017

"Room at the Top" by John Braine

Sometimes it is scary how quickly books can age. First published in 1957 but looking back perhaps ten years, it seems doubtful that this book could be published today; in one paragraph it manages to be homophobic and sexist simultaneously. It is set in a world where there is still rationing after the second world war, where northern towns are still dominated by the mills of the textile industry, where it is the norm for a young man to move in as a paying guest with a family, meals included, where most people travel by bus and where drink driving is an acceptable norm.

Joe Lampton arrives in Warley to work as an accountant at the Town Hall. A working class lad orphaned by a bomb, he is desperate to escape the grim northern town in which he grew up (Warley, it seems, is a far more acceptable northern town) and equally to escape his working class roots. He has a massive chip n his shoulder regarding class (he was only a sergeant in the RAF) but desperately snobbish about those who he sees as lower class than himself; this hypocrisy is extended to women when he has a massive strop about with the woman with whom he is having an affair because she once posed nude for an artist. He isn't exactly a blushing virgin. All in all he is not a very nice chap. He isn't supposed to be. But I'm not 100% sure the author himself doesn't share the double standards of his narrator.

It is well-written. There are some fabulous moments of pathetic fallacy and he paces beautifully. On the first page the narrator names himself and is then named by another character in dialogue so subtly that it is almost invisible; there is a perfectly placed telephone call at one stage which just pauses the plot and keeps the tension just wound up.

There are some lovely images:

  • Yesterday's drinks have left "a carbonated-water sensation in my nostrils" in only the second paragraph. Joe's face is "not innocent exactly, but unused" (p 8) 
  • Her "smile was perhaps the result of long practice; she hardly moved her mouth." (p 8)
  • "The sensation ... of having more than one's fair share of oxygen." (p 26)
  • "The black cobbles splashed green and yellow and red with squashed fruit and vegetables ... the bells of the parish church striking the hour sad as Sunday" (pp 28 - 29)
  • Whisky: "It left a warm glow inside my stomach after it had for a split second dried my mouth and sent a little rush of air up my throat." (p 73)


There are reflections about life:

  • "I was still young. I'd lots and lots of bounce left in me." (p 108)
  • "It's already difficult to remember the days of rationing, but I'm sure of one thing: one was always hungry ... for profusion, hungry for more than enough, hungry for cream and pineapples and roast pork and chocolate." (p 139)
  • "Time, like a loan from the bank, is something you're only given when you possess so much that you don't need it." (p 142)
  • "If you're hungry and someone's preparing a good meal, you'll naturally angle for an invitation." (p 35)


But his biggest comments are reserved for social class:

  • "it was as if all my life I'd been eating sawdust and thinking it was bread." (p 10)
  • "It's astounding how often  golden hearts and silver spoons in the mouth go together." (p 19)
  • "The rich were my enemies, I felt: they were watching me for the first false move." (p 81) 
  • "The others [pubs] weren't exactly low, but even in their Best Rooms you were likely to see the overalled and sweaty" (p 92)
  • "I'll marry her if I have to put her in the family way to do it. I'll make her daddy give me a damned good job. I'll never count pennies again." (p 149)

A very dated novel but well-written with an intriguingly flawed anti-hero as narrator and protagonist. Well worth reading. February 2017; 256 pages

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