Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Author: J.I.M. Stewart
Year of publication: 1961, Penguin edition 1963
Back cover blurb: ''E were a mardy one as a nipper, our Phil. Steady work and steady money - that's 'is motto,' said Phil Tombs's auntie on TV when he won almost a quarter of a million on the pools.
Nobody expects Phil to stay steady, however: they either take him for a rid, treat him like a proper nit, or try to organize his life for him. But Phil is no fool, and he makes an enterprising, amusing, and provocative hero as he learns the social nuances and the power of cash, charging from one adventure to another with proletarian gusto.
The author of A Use of Riches in this entertaining novel employs his incisive style to depict the English social maze through his hero's intrigued and piercing gaze.'
Reading reveals: Young man from a working class environment so emotionally constipated it's a wonder everyone doesn't throw themselves onto the road in frustration wins the pools. He doesn't seem that excited about it, and neither do his friends. This makes the first half of the novel a bit of a trudge as he listens to various Marxist-informed opinions about how he can invest it in co-operatives and the like.
After a while, he goes to London and things get more interesting as he finds himself being duped into investing in a strip club and in the schemes of a mad inventor. Then there's some more class stuff and the book ends.
Although it provides a neat window into ideas about wealth and class in pre-Beatles Britain, Oxford don Stewart, whom, one suspects, has never lived like common people, completely fails to grasp the desire those without have to improve the material lot of themselves and their family, something which Thatcher would understand and exploit all too well some years later.
Overall, a worthwhile period piece that leaves you wondering why someone so devoid of dreams would bother playing the pools in the first place.
Random paragraph: '"All right, But what I say's true. The rich don't get much life - not really. They know what they're sitting on the lid of. It seeps up through their fat behinds and seeps into their heads as a haunting guilt and anxiety. You can see it in their gilded youth. All that stalking about in breeches and bowler hats is a sham. There's a complete failure of confidence underneath."'