9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Room At The top by John Braine,
This review is from: Room At The Top (Paperback)
"Room At The Top" was a seminal book of the 1950s, fitting into the Angry Young Man theme running through parts of British literature at the time. The story of Joe Lampton, determined to elbow his way out of the position in society the rigidity of that society had placed him, is almost a continuous shout of anguish. For younger readers, two questions are these : Does it feel too dated now to resonate ? And does its treatment of women characters ring true? Perhaps it might be useful to compare it with the book "1954: A Crime Novel" (published in 2009). On the face of it, this might sound odd. But both authors, John Braine ("Room At The Top") and Nick Garnett ("1954") were born in Bradford. Both books are set in the same part of Yorkshire. And they both have a backdrop of the local textile industry and the magnates who owned the mills. Garnett seems aware of this. A character called Lampton makes a brief appearance in "1954". Putting aside the obvious fact that the books are about very different stories, "1954: A Crime Novel" has a female hero, wool baron's wife Jennifer Shaw, to share centre stage with Detective Inspector Ray Stafford. In Braine's story of Joe Lampton, the women, like Alice, take very much secondary roles and I'm not convinced the author draws them very well. In "1954: A Crime Novel", Garnett weaves into the story, the emergence of immigration from south Asia which in many Yorkshire towns was linked to employment practices in the kind of mills owned by the Carstairs family ("Room At The Top") and the Shaws ("1954"). All this is absent in "Room At The Top". This might be seen as an unfair point as Braine started writing his book in the 1940s and "Room At The Top" seems more rooted there than in the 1950s. It looks back towards the Second World War whereas "1954: A Crime Novel" tends to look forward. "1954" also enjoys the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, when "Room At The Top" was first published (1957) asian immigration was emerging in the type of towns Braine uses as a setting. Perhaps it is the case that "Room At the Top" and Braine's sequel, "Life At The Top" were about environments rapidly running out of time, whether Braine knew it or not. For me, "Room At The Top" is still very much worth the read.
H.G Dalton, Tralee, Ireland