Mirabile Does Middlebrow: J. B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement & Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tossed Waves

Picasso, "Woman with Book" (1932)

Picasso, “Woman with Book” (1932)

You may wonder what I’ve been reading.

I have been reading.

I have also spent a lot of time online.  I recently received a notification from my phone company that I am a “heavy user.”

Sounds vaguely as though I need Narcotics Anonymous.

The phone company wants me to upgrade my internet speed.

I don’t need it upgraded.  I need to go write in a journal or something.

Meanwhile, here is a look at the latest middlebrow novels I’ve been reading.

1.  J. B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement.  A few years ago I read J. B. Priestley’s Lost Empires, a charming, lively novel narrated by a watercolor artist who amusedly reminisces about his youth assisting his uncle in his magic act in music halls. Priestley’s style reminded me slightly of W. Somerset Maugham’s, and I wanted to read more of his books.

I got waylaid, as I so often do, because there is so much to read. Finally I found a very nice used paperback copy of Angel Pavement (1930), published by Phoenix/The University of Chicago Press. (The book is out of print, except for a Kindle edition with a very good introduction by D. J. Taylor. I don’t have a Kindle, but I read the sample.)

Angel Pavement j. b. priesleySet in London, Angel Pavement is the story of a group of sad, desperate people who work in an office, Twigg & Dersingham.  After Mr. Golspie, a middle-aged man with a get-rich-quick business plan, arrives mysteriously at the office at No. 8 Angel Pavement with a proposal to sell cheap wood veneers and inlays from the Baltic at a huge profit, the upturn in business temporarily pumps money into the impecunious firm.

It also changes the lives of the characters.

Priestley’s entertaining description of No. 8 Angel Pavement is slightly Dickensian and makes the street forever memorable.

No. 8, once a four-storey dwelling-house where some merchant-alderman lived snugly on East India dividends, is now a hive of commerce.  For the last few years, it has contrived to keep an old lady and a companion (unpaid) in reasonable comfort at The Palms Private Hotel, Torquay, and, in addition, to furnish the old lady’s youngest niece with an allowance of two pounds a week in order that she might continue to share a studio just off the Fulham Road and attempt to design scenery for plays that are always about to be produced at the Everyman Theater, Hampstead….  As for the tenants themselves, their names may be found on each side of the squat doorway.  The ground floor is occupied by the Kwik-Work Razor Blade Co., Ltd., the first floor by Twigg & Dersingham, and the upper floors by the Universal Hosiery Co. and the London and Counties Supply Stores, and, at the very top, keeping its eye on everybody, the National Mercantile Enquiry Agency, which seems to be content with the possession of a front attic.

If you’ve ever worked in an office, you will know these vividly-depicted characters.  Mr. Smeeth, the firm’s cashier, is very proud of his clerical job, adores calculations and bills, and supports his family in a snug little house.  Stanley, the office boy, likes to “shadder” people and pretend he is a detective.  Miss Matfield, the efficient, well-educated typist, is discontented and thinks of herself as only temporarily working in an office and living in a women’s club, but she is pushing 30 and beginning to feel a little desperate.  Mr. Dersingham, the owner, went to a minor public school, and concentrates on school functions and school ties rather than business.  Saddest of all is Turgis, the clerk, “a thinnish, awkward young man with a rather long neck, poor shoulders, and large, clumsy hand and feet.” Living alone in lodgings, he spends his weekends walking around London and hoping to find a girlfriend at tea shops or movies. He has no relationships with anyone, no friends.

Sex also arrives at No. 8 Angel Pavement with the advent of Mr. Golspie.  Turgis falls in love with Mr. Golspie’s pretty daughter, Lena, and his obsession reminds me of  Philip’s with trashy Mildred (who, as I recall, had green skin–very attractive!) in Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.  Mr. Golspie picks up Miss Matfield, who is finally ready to lose her virginity when… well, I won’t tell you, but she ends up considerably better off than poor Turgis.

I loved this book:  so much fun to read!  Not a classic, but a very good novel.

2.  And my cousin gave me a Y.A. zombie book for Christmas, Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tossed Waves.

The_Dead-Tossed_Waves_(book_cover) Ryan has a moody, unevenly poetic style, and I can see how this book would appeal to a teenage girl.  The premise, however, is terrifying.  Towns are fenced off so the zombies don’t break in and infect the residents, most towns and cities have been breached, and the world’s population has dwindled.  The heroine Gabry’s mother has to go out and kill zombies on the beach when the tide comes in.  One night Gabry and a group of teenagers climb over the fence to play in an old amusement park.  A zombie attacks, and most of her friends die or are banished into a kind of military service.

What I dislike most about these Y.A. books, though, is the passivity of the heroines.  Sure, eventually Gabry learns to take care of herself, but there’s a lot of whining and dependence.  Personally I very much enjoyed the Twilight books, but these other Y.A. books…I have to say no.

2 thoughts on “Mirabile Does Middlebrow: J. B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement & Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tossed Waves

  1. I’m yet to read Priestley, though I’m very keen to do so – and this one sounds very appealing! As for YA books, I’m abivalent – when I was growing up there weren’t any, so you had to make the difficult transition with not-too-scary adult books (for me Agatha Christie, Tolkien and my mother’s Victoria Holt-type books). From what I’ve seen of my kids YA books, they can be desperately cliched and tacky – so maybe I’m glad I did it my way!!

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  2. Priestley is very good. I did pick up a couple of his books at various sales, and they’re probably still in a box. You know how it is: you go to a book sale and come home with a box of books, and then the books don’t always come out of the box, and then you don’t know WHERE the box is.

    I’m not sure we need Y.A. books but it does seem everyone reads them nowadays: I loved the Twilight books, which a friend was “addicted to” and urged me to read, but haven’t found anything comparable.

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