…. to say that I did read a book . I read it last weekend, I meant to be early this year after being months late last time around, but somehow the week has gone by and I’ve not been here at all.
But now I am here, so let me tell you this book.
When I saw the title ‘Filthy Lucre’ in the library catalogue I thought that it could well be the kind of book that she wrote early in her career, the kind that drew heavily on her own life, experiences and observations. But then I realised that it might be the kind of book she wrote later in her career, the kind that I admire but like a little less; the books that spin fiction around stories from the margins of history. It turned out though that this book was neither of those things. It was something quite different.
The subtitle was the first clue:
“The Tragedy of Andrew Ledwhistle and Richard Soleway”
Beryl Bainbridge’s wrote ‘Filthy Lucre’ in 1946, when she was just thirteen years old, and it was published some forty years later with only some very minor alterations.
The author added a wonderful introduction, telling stories of her earliest writings, and explaining how this particular work shaped her writing career:
“I was dissatisfied with the result, mainly because it wasn’t ‘real life’ and I had invented the characters and the plot. I don’t think I have ever invented anything since. Reading it now I am of the opinion that writing is very like music, in the sense that if you hear a song often enough it becomes impossible not to go on humming the same tune ….”
I think is fair to say that ‘Filthy Lucre’ is a sensational novel.
The year is 1851.
Andrew Ledwhistle retires from the firm of Andromikey & Ledwhistle after more than half a century at its helm. His son Ernest will succeed him, and he asks that Martin Andromikey, the grandson of his former business partner, should join him in the business
He doesn’t know Martin Andromikey on his his death bed. Or that he believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by Andrew Ledwhistle, and that with his dying breath he implores his friend Richard Soleway to keep his death a secret, to take his name and his place at Andromikey & Ledwhistle, and to take his revenge on the Ledwhistle family.
Richard agrees, and he takes his friend’s wishes very seriously.
He doesn’t know though that he is being watched, by more than one interested party….
A wonderfully dramatic story unfolds, full of twists and turns, and with a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter. There’s crime and intrigue; there’s action and drama; there’s love and romance; there’s even a sojourn on a desert island.
It moves along at break-neck speed. I can’t say too much about the plot, but – just to illustrate this point – I will tell you that one character was trampled by a horse, had his legs amputated, was reconciled with his estranged father, and then was up and about on wooded legs in the space of one short chapter.
It shouldn’t work, but it does.
There’s a lovely clarity and straightforwardness about the writing. Given an unmarked edition I wouldn’t have been able to say who the author was, but if I had been asked to guess there is something about the writing that makes me say that I might have guessed right.
It is evident that the young Beryl had read a great many Victorian novelists – the names that came to my mind were Dickens, Collins, Stevenson and Trollope – and that she had a good understanding of why their books worked. Her plot was complex but I can’t fault the logic; her characters were simply but clearly drawn; and the streets where they walked felt like Victorian London.
Things often get a little silly, and the dialogue feels a little stagey, but of course this isn’t a mature work. It’s just an unpolished, naïve story that was a lovely diversion for an hour or so.
It might have been nice to have read a grown-up novel for Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week. The kind of book that would have had much more about it, that I could have written much more about. But I’m rather glad that I read this little book, because it reminded me that the distinguished author grew from a little girl who – like me – loved reading books and telling stories.