Friday, 18 October 2013
Hurry On Down - John Wain
This is the book that is said to have started the Angry Young Men on their angry way. Actually, it's more of a Movement thing, very slightly (1953) predating Amis and Larkin. In essence, it's a classic English comic picaresque, the misadventures of Charles Lumley in the first year or so after leaving university. What makes it different is that Charles has no mission (other than to find a mission) and sets himself firmly on a downward trajectory - accidentally becoming a window cleaner, car delivery driver (and crook), hospital orderly, chauffeur, nightclub bouncer and radio gag-writer. What I especially liked was the dense quality of the writing. I've always found Kingsley Amis somewhat glib and superficial whereas Wain seems to be always aware of the relationship between art and character. There are some marvellous lines here, for example: "His life was a dialogue, full of deep and tragic truths, expressed in hoarse shouts by red-nosed music-hall comics." Brilliant - a bona fide classic of the mid twentieth century. This should be on the school curriculum.
And by the way, check out that superb cover art by Len Deighton.