Arthur works in a factory and reckons he knows how to get the most out of life: earning good money through the week, drinking hard at weekends and juggling affairs with women while avoiding retribution from their husbands.
Because this book is frequently compared with Room at the Top, which I really liked, I'd been meaning to read this for a while. It recently was re-issued on the 50th anniversary of its original publication so I got hold of a copy.
It does have a very similar flavour to RatT - in both cases the protagonist is a young man in the prime of life, with the apparent self-confidence to see how he can exploit the situation in which he finds himself and make the most of his strengths to get what he wants. Arthur is strong, healthy, attractive and, (relatively) well off and has no qualms about enjoying life. He is paid piece work for working on a production line in a bicycle factory, and knows how to pace himself so that he gets through just the right amount of work to guarantee him a good paypacket but not too much because then his rate per piece would be dropped. He always has enough money, come the weekend, to spend on beer, and doesn't mind getting into fights because he's fit and strong. And he has few qualms about carrying on with the wife of a work-mate, although he knows that things probably will end badly.
I don't think the book had the romance of Room at the Top and Arthur doesn't show the same level of insight into his own condition - which isn't to say he doesn't recognise it, but it's not such a major theme of the book. And while RatT is all written in the first person, this book is mostly a third person narrative, although there are sections where it drifts into the first person, e.g. in this section
He had no pity for a 'slow' husband. There was something lacking in them, not like a man with one leg that could in no way be put right [...] Then on the other hand there were women who wouldn't let you be nice to them...They were the sort of women who thought you were barmy if you tried to love 'em, and they just didn't understand what love was, and all you could do was end up by giving them a smack in the chops. Hopeless and barmy. But I reckon that mostly women want you to love 'em and be nice to 'em, and that even if they didn't they'd start to love you back after a bit.(pp 44-45) Sort of draws you into his head a bit I suppose, although once I noticed the technique it broke the spell a bit.
Pretty good read though, and certainly very evocative of an age that seems distant now. Not as good for me as RatT, but pretty worthwhile all the same. I suppose I ought to try "A Kind of Loving" now, as well.
Completed : 14-Dec-2008