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.
‘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.