Room at the Top, by John Braine

Joe Lampton moves away from his working-class roots in Dufton, and comes to live in Warley, where he is determined to achieve not only wealth but also the recognition and respect of those who previously looked down on him.

I'd intended to read this book ever since hearing a dramatisation on Radio 4, which I really enjoyed. And it wasn't disappointing. The dramatisation was fairly faithful to the original, although there were a couple of scenes which must have made an impression on me in the radio play that I did notice being different in the book. For example, when Joe ignores Susan for a couple of months, the radio play has her tearfully begging him to explain why he's behaving in such a way: in the book, there's no such scene or suggestion of it. And the play made no mention of the fact that Alice had a fling with Joe's rival Jack, which in the book is a fairly significant reason for Joe's subsequent behaviour.

Although Joe doesn't behave in a very nice way, he's very self-aware. When he talks of his dead parents, he is at once trying to gain sympathy and disgusted with himself for doing so. And this makes him quite a sympathetic character. One paragraph in the book which I remember from the play:

I'm like a brand-new Cadillac in a poor industrial area, insulated by steel and glass and air-conditioning from the people outside...I don't wish to be like the people outside, I don't even wish that I had some weakness, some foolishness to immobilise me amongst the envious coolie faces, to let in the rain and the smell of defeat. But I sometimes wish that I wished it.

And the last lines of the book, which weren't in the play, but maybe should have been, as they capture very well the feel of the whole thing:

Eva drew my head on to her breast. "Poor darling, you mustn't take on so. You don't see it now, but it was all for the best. She'd have ruined your whole life. Nobody blames you, love. Nobody blames you."

I pulled myself away from her abruptly. "Oh my God," I said, "that's the trouble."

Great book.

Completed : 31-Jul-2006

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