Do you like stories about entitled white men who get what they want? Then boy do I have the book for you!
I found this book for a buck in a used bookstore. On the back it said “John Braine is a Yorkshire man,” and the first line in the book was “No more Zombies, Joe,”. I was sold. I was just about to move to Yorkshire, you see and I wanted to read the quintessential Yorkshire. I have since moved and can reveal, the novel is nothing like the real deal. Yorkshire has wonderfully sand-colored buildings with blackening edges, and hillsides covered in wet-dripping plants, and people who smile and say “a’y’alright?” in one confusing word that I don’t yet know how to respond to. They have little shops with pies and pasties and I take the train each morning from a station that seems to be a set for a goddamn period drama.
Room at the top however is just about a white guy who wants to be rich, but also WOMENZ.
Joe Lampton moves from Dufton to Warley. Warley is ace and Dufton was filled with zombies, that is old, boring people that Joe despises. In Warley, Joe sees a rich man exiting a car with a pretty woman and he decides that’s what he wants. Money and a pretty woman.
He joins a local theatre group and starts wooing a pretty young woman, Susan, from a rich family. Then he falls in love with a married woman. Who is OLD. She’s 34, but you guys do we get to hear exactly how her body is decaying. Her drooping chin, her stomach, her wrinkles. Joe Lampton falls completely in love with her or so we’re supposed to believe, because he sure does spend a LOT of time describing her faults.
Susan on the other hand is very, very pretty. And very dull for poor Joe, who prefers the married woman even though she is nearing middle age and is obviously an embarrassment. YOUGUYS it’s soooo complicated.
The novel requires about seventy content warnings. The book is from 1957 and, boy, are women just a means to an end. Sometimes the difference is quirky and charming, like when Joe’s landlady replies that men’s friendships are deeper than women’s, other times they are disturbing like when Susan begs for him to hit her.
Still the novel is well-written. It’s not a page turner, but it’s pleasant enough. I did end up understanding Joe Lampton’s feelings and choices, but I never really felt for him. He was a young guy without a whole lot to lose. Sure there’s some post-war stuff thrown in there, about how his parents were killed (the only one’s in Dufton actually which seems very one-upper-ish to me? “Oh you lost your uncle in the war? Well I lost both my parents and they were the only ones in the entire town that died!!!”), but it’s not enough to really impact the story or his choices. Tragic past or not, he’d still have chosen exactly the same.
Read it if you’re looking for a book about simple, white-man’s problems from a sexist’er time or if you’re about to move to Yorkshire and will forgive anything in a book.