Twenty-third book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.
I took this book up on a whim and I’m really glad that I did. This is my first Gerald Kersh book and I can safely say that it won’t be my last. After a few pages of struggle to get used to the Cockneye slang and the manner of speaking of the natives of Fowler’s End, this book was a good roller coaster ride; some introspection interspersed with the antics of some really weird characters that bring a lot of color to the story and add that dash of British humor that the I so like.
The story is about Daniel Laverock (also the narrator) and his many adventures in Fowlers End, a shabby and god forsaken neighborhood of London. Daniel is not a bad sort, but after having many misfortunes and after blowing all of his savings in a bad business decision, he lands up in Fowlers End, looking to avoid the hollow pity of his relatives, the unsolicited advice of his uncle Hugh and the incessant badgering of his mother.
He gets a job as the manager of a cinema owned by Sam Yudenow, Jewish entrepreneur and by far, the most hilarious and quirky character in the story. When I first came across him in the book, I was instantly reminded of Danny DeVito from the 1996 movie Matilda and for the rest of the book, I just pictured him when Sam came up and read all his dialogues in his voice. It was just superb!
Coming to the characters, this is a motley group that I came to love for their traits. Sam Yudenow has nothing but contempt for everyone else in Fowlers End (and perhaps even those outside of it; basically just about the whole world) and even though he doesn’t mince his words, he’s careful not to challenge them. Despite being a misanthrope, he’s a shrewd businessman and sweet talker who you wouldn’t want to stop.
Daniel’s only other acquaintance in Fowlers End is Copper Baldwin, a small time mechanic and full-time crook who has acid on his tongue for Sam (who also happens to be his employer) and wishes the worst for him. But, he is kind to Daniel because he feels that he is his equal (or almost equal) in intellect and loves to have metaphysical debates with him, that Daniel almost always ends up winning.
Daniel has a little fling with a girl named June Whistler, who is someone who will save your soul, but smother you with her love after that. A typical overly-attached girlfriend who has some really violent fantasies (that good boy Daniel tries his best to resist).
Daniel’s mom is a sweet old lady who is torn between her brother, Hugh, on whom she depends for her subsistence and her son Daniel, whom she loves dearly. She has an uncanny knack for having premonitions about Daniel that drive him crazy (and makes their interactions so much more entertaining). Her confusion in her old age makes her quite real, as a senile elder.
This novel has everything, a deeply moving coming-of-age story, a terrorist plot (yes!), a love story gone wrong and the scourge of society all descending together into its pages. All this is neatly wrapped in quintessential British wit and sardonic humor sprinkled with the existential dilemma of Daniel’s self-doubt and struggles that lend a depth to the story and make you look forward to it.
This is a tale that you must definitely read. If not for all the funny confusion, then definitely for Sam’s acerbic wit and generous insults, Copper’s disgusting anecdotes and Daniel’s melancholy observations; some of which I’ve collected as quotes from this book.
Bonus: Watch Rock’n’Rolla, a brilliant darkly comic film based on a similar theme. Gerard Butler, Tom Hardy, Thandie Newton and Idris Elba; ’nuff said.