Most helpful critical review
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
At best a very minor classic
on 19 March 2012
This book is set mainly in the Earl's Court area of London, with a couple of excursions to Brighton, in the few months leading up to the second world war. George Bone, an amiable, but vulnerable, young man without a job has drifted onto the fringe a small group of feckless people who exist largely by cadging money from friends and relations and whose social life revolves around heavy drinking in pubs and in the flat of the only woman in the group, a would-be actress called Netta Longden. The description of the pub atmosphere and the aimless boozing culture is quite well done and is the best part of the book. Bone is hopelessly besotted by Netta, and there are many descriptions by him of her beauty. But these are all in similar terms and after the first few they add nothing to the narrative. I just found them irritating.
Netta despises Bone and frequently humiliates him. She tolerates him only because he has a few hundred pounds he has won on the football pools and can be manipulated to pay some of her debts. Bone has a form of schizophrenia that manifests itself by sudden changes of mood and memory loss, lasting from minutes to days, and the humiliation often centres on making fun of Bone's `dumb moods', as the group calls them. The description of these moods is repeated every time they occur in almost identical terms, and again I found this very irritating. It is during one of these periods that Bone decides he can no longer tolerate Netta's treatment of him and that he must kill her; and that he must afterwards return to Maidenhead, where he had spent happy times with his sister Ellen, now presumably dead.
Once the main characters are introduced, most of the rest of the book details the treatment of Bone by Netta and her friends, particularly the odious Peter, who Bone later includes in his death fantasies, and Bone's musings during his `dumb mood'. The action is rather repetitive: Bone is humiliated by Netta and decides it cannot continue any longer and he will break free of the group, encouraged by an old school friend; something happens that makes him hope that he still has a chance with Netta; then Netta's attitude to him reverts to its former mode and the cycle starts over. Increasingly I felt like giving him a good shake and telling him to make his mind up. Finally, he does action his fantasies. Some reviewers have described the ending as unexpected. On the contrary, it is entirely predictable. Bone has signaled his intent from the very first chapter, and what do mentally deranged people frequently do after they have committed murder? It is obvious that there was never going to be a `feel-good' ending.
Overall I find myself in the minority of reviewers who find this book a disappointment. At best it is a very minor classic, and I understand why the author's reputation has not stood the test of time.