Monday, 11 April 2011

Penguin no. 1676: A High-Pitched Buzz
by Roger Longrigg

"The immediate past was full of warnings. They clamoured about me in the car as I drove up William Street: not so much of actual trouble as of the dusty and dirty horrors of disillusion. I heeded them. Perhaps it was the cold air. I was fed up with disappointments and anti-climaxes, with sweet hard hopeful things turning sour and soft and maggotty. I told myself I would be careful."

This book was first published in 1956. At first it seemed to be another of those British post-war novels with the anti-hero as protagonist, a cynical young man on the make, working in one of the newer professions, observing Society and critical of it's pretensions. But as I read on, it became clear that this was something different. Instead of being angry and self-centred, and indifferent to the feelings of others, the character at the centre of this novel  is vulnerable: he is sensitive and likeable, determined to work hard and disinclined to sacrifice others in his climb to the top. The dusty and dirty horrors of disillusion he refers to in the passage above, and of which he is wary, refers to disillusionment with members of his own generation; his problems are caused by the behaviour of people like himself.

Henry Fenwick is an advertising copy-writer. He works for a lacklustre agency in which talent and innovation  are unlikely to be recognised or valued, and so he does his job half-heartedly, unimaginatively churning out slogans and copy. But to cadge at his job is not what he seeks from life; he aims for something better. His boss is middle-aged and petty, watching the clock and upbraiding him if he is not at his desk at the stroke of nine. This boss is disliked by everyone in the company although he doesn't know it; plots for his removal are being hatched behind his back. Despite the provocation, and despite the fact that he could achieve his aims through his boss's removal, Henry chooses loyalty. All this occurs in contrast to events in his personal life. Trusting and na├»ve, he is betrayed by both his girlfriend and his oldest friend.

Still, the novel is fairly lightweight, easy to read, and barely has a plot. It is told in a conversational style, full of irrelevancies which help to emphasise the sense that we are meeting a man who means well but isn't quite on top of things. It has the kind of fairytale ending in which the hero is a little wiser, a bit more cynical, but the reader is left with the sense that everything is going to turn out just fine. I didn't really believe any of it, but it was entertaining enough to keep reading and I did find it funny. The aspect of the novel which was most interesting was the documentary-style recording the small details of bachelor life in 1950s London: where they lived, how they passed their evenings, the streets they walked along, the restaurants they went to, the brands of cigarettes they smoked. There is a sense of the novel trying to capture and record the very moment in which it was written.

Perhaps this would count as a forgotten novel. I don't know how you would objectively assess this, but no one has listed this book on Goodreads, and there are only seven copies currently listed on LibraryThing, so it seems reasonable to assume that very few people are reading it now. I think I found the author's story more interesting than the book he wrote. This was Roger Longrigg's first novel. He went on to write another 54, but he wrote them under 8 different pseudonyms, including a series of mystery novels as Frank Parrish and a series of spy thrillers as Ivor Drummond. Most intriguingly though, he also wrote the well-received novel Passion Flower Hotel, under the pseudonym Rosalind Erskine, a review of which can be found here. His evocation of the interior life of a teenager must have been convincing; it was believed for years that the book had been written by a 15 year old schoolgirl.

Also reviewed by :
The Bookish Oaf

2 comments:

  1. It is strange how some novels are forgotten, while others that seem no better or worse manage to stand the test of time. I think this one sounds interesting, I have never heard of the author or any of his pseudonyms. He must've been reasonably well thought of in his day if he had 54 novels published.

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  2. A collection of Penguins is a constant reminder that in general fame doesn't endure. There are so many books, and so many authors, who have been forgotten in such a short space of time.

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