This is one of those British novels from the 1960s that is trying to capture the changing tone and impulses in the country stemming from the end of the war and the institution of the welfare state, and of course, the end of Empire. The novel takes places in a dying, middling paper on Fleet Street, the slightly mythic part of London with the famous daily papers. Our two main character is a married man named John Dyson, who foolishly bought a mediocre house in a “bad” neighborhood, who believes that his minor feud with his West Indian neighbors in his mixed race neighborhood makes him an expert in race relations, and he’s invited on a television show to discuss it. He gets a taste for it, and in one of the funniest scenes in the novel he contributes nothing to the television conversation except for the repeated line “That is so interesting”.
The other protagonist is Bill. Bill is a man in his early 30s who feels like he’s going to seed. He’s technically engaged to a woman named Tessa who lives far away from London. He also lives in the same apartment building as one of his enemies at the paper, a sour 40 year old man named Mounce. Mounce’s wife takes shine to Bill, and the sexual tension is wholly ambiguous in the novel as she chainsmokes and cooks for him and even bites his leg one time. It’s not clear if she’s looking for an affair or trying to save a loser from the same dumb choices she made.
The novel as a whole is very funny and has some of the most impeccable dialog I’ve read in a British novel. These characters often feel farcical, but their speaking voices are so real and vocal.