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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 23 February 2020

"The Ballad of Peckham Rye" by Muriel Spark

Written and set at the start of the 1960s, the Ballad of Peckham Rye is the story of Dougal Douglas (or perhaps Douglas Dougal) who gets a job at a manufacturing company in Peckham. He is a strange person (he himself suggests he is a minor demon and invites a friend to feel his skull where he says he had his devil's horns removed) around whom things start to happen. Written in very straightforward 'no nonsense' prose with a fair amount of repetition and a good ear for dialect, this short novel makes the everyday bizarre seem very straightforward. As Dougal observes: "All human beings who breathe are a bit unnatural." (C 5)

The turning point of this novel comes just after the halfway mark.

Of course this book is all about the character of Dougal. He is sinisterly manipulative and sometimes frankly awful as in this conversation:
"'Dougal, I've had a rotten life.' 
'And it isn't over yet,' Dougal said ... 'There might be worse ahead.'" (C 7)

The other characters are far less important. Mr Druce, Dougal's boss, is having an affair with Miss Coverdale, head of the typing pool. Trevor, the antagonist, is leader of a rather pathetic gang which includes the barely adult Collie and the 13 year old Leslie. Dixie is saving for her wedding so hard that she has become mean and has forgotten how to have fun, her two jobs leave her too tired for pre-marital sex with fiancee Humphrey.

The background of the story is also one of the characters. Cafes, pubs and dance halls, typing pools and factory floors, wannabe gangsters and juvenile delinquents, boarding houses and respectful local bobbies. This is a beautifully told 'ballad'.

Some great moments:

  • "We used to have open-plan ... so that you could see everyone in the office without the glass ... But the bosses wanted their privacy back, so we had the glass partitions put up." (C 3)
  • "Leslie stopped chewing for an instant and stared back at Dougal in such disgust that he seemed to be looking at Dougal through his nostrils rather than he eyes." (C 3)
  • "At your age I was putting all my wages what I had left over after paying my keep on my back." (C 3)
  • "As an accepted thing, any of the girls might break off in the middle of a sentence, should a young man approach her, and, turning to him, might give him her entire and smiling regard." (C 4)
  • "Beauty walked off on her own, with her high determined heels and her model-girl sway, placing her feet confidently and as on a chalk line." (C 4)
  • "Consider the story of Moses in the bulrushes. That was a crafty trick. The mother got her baby back and all expenses paid into the bargain." (C 6)

Delightful. February 2020; 141 pages

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