Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.

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10 Comments

Filed under Beryl Bainbridge, Fontana Books, Review

10 responses to “Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

  1. gaskella

    Wow – she was obviously a great storyteller right from the start. I wasn’t sure about this one, so have mainly read other novels from the first half of her career so far. Many thanks Simon. I shall look forward to your other posts with great pleasure.

    • Not a problem Annabel. Thank you for introducing me to Beryl this year. I have found a new favourite author.

      I don’t think this is her best book like a long shot but it’s a really well written twisting and entertaining read.

  2. Interesting that the dark twists are present even from such a young age. I was wondering if the fact that a lot of them were semi-autobiographical had made her darker/colder in tone but from what you say it seems not… I really don’t feel like I’ve got to grips with her at all yet, despite finding her intriguing and really enjoying The Dressmaker!

    • I think she is a lot like Spark in being a bit difficult to ‘get’ in part because she writes such different books in style of setting but also in terms of the prose. I think she’s very different in each book.

  3. This sounds like another one to read – although I’m already of the opinion that any book with her name on it has got to be worth reading.
    Of her books not on your blog I’d recommend Master Georgie and Harriet Said, but I’ve only read four so that’s not from a position of any great knowledge.
    Do you know if Filthy Lucre was ‘polished’ for publication?

    • It was polished a bit. There’s a lovely introduction by Beryl actually which I should have mentioned. She discusses why she was writing at that age and the fact like all her books this one had to be edited for spelling as she was an appalling speller. Ha.

      I also forgot to include one of the many illustrations she did at the same age throughout. Oops.

  4. I had no idea she’d had one published that she’d written when she was 13 – was it completely unedited by the time it was published? What an amazing woman!

    • It wasn’t published until the 1980s yet written in the 1940s. There’s a wonderful introduction which says it has only been edited very slightly.

      It’s practically a novella, I think you should root it out.

  5. Pingback: Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week – Review Round-up « Gaskella

  6. Pingback: Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend – An Exhibition | Savidge Reads

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