Tag Archives: The Sixties

#BookReview ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Simon Raven #Historical #Literary

Simon RavenFriends in Low Places by Simon Raven, second in the ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, starts in April 1959 with an old character and a new. Widow Angela Tuck has taken up with a sleazy con man. Mark Lewson, who steals from Angela and then loses her money at the casino, is a loathsome character and she can’t wait to be rid of him. Rippling throughout the novel is the seemingly impossible plan hatched by Angela’s gambler friend to help her. He charges Lewson with buying or stealing a letter that incriminates the British Government in a scandal concerning Suez.

This is an enjoyable read about a bunch of charlatans and is a window on the behavior of a group of the English upper class in the Sixties, when the reverberations of the Suez Crisis continued to ripple throughout society. At the heart is the manipulation by everyone concerned during the selection process by the local Tory party to choose its parliamentary candidate for Bishop’s Cross. When the mysterious letter about the Suez scandal becomes available, a chase is on to first, possess the letter; and second, to use it as a bargaining chip for the candidature. The Suez errors are never defined, and perhaps by modern standards they would seem small beer, but the manipulations, double-crossing and blackmail seem, unfortunately, very believable today. Behind the smiles are knives. Do not take anyone at face value.

As well as Angela Tuck, familiar characters from the first book reappear, including rival parliamentary candidates Somerset Lloyd-James and Peter Morrison. Journalist Tom Llewellyn also features again, marring the daughter of the grandly named conservative minister Sir Edwin Turbot who may, or may not, be involved in the Suez scandal. Turbot’s friend Lord Canteloupe [the more outrageous the name, the more outrageous the satire] is put in charge of entertaining the working class population. His Westward Ho! caravan park is a political fudge designed for publicity purposes, which unwittingly becomes the hideout for a couple on the run from the law. This is a whirlwind of political shenanigans, sexual shenanigans, two-timing, betrayals and marriages of convenience.

Raven has a wonderful turn of phrase. For example, ‘Sir Edwin turned up his eyes and stuck his spoon into the middle of his peach melba, with the air of a soldier planting a sabre to mark a fallen comrade’s newly filled grave.’

Much easier to read than The Rich Pay Late, first in the series, I think because many of the same characters appear and I felt familiar with them. Well-written, humorous in places but not shocking when compared with modern politics.

Read my review of The Rich Pay Late, book one in the Alms for Oblivion series

If you like this, try:-
All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison
Union Street’ by Pat Barker
Wigs on the Green’ by Nancy Mitford

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES by Simon Raven #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Xy via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Rich Pay Late’ by Simon Raven #Historical #Literary

Simon Raven

It is the eve of the Suez crisis in the Fifties. Written in the Sixties with the benefit of hindsight of this political crisis, The Rich Pay Late by Simon Raven has a modern tone applicable for our Brexit times. Greed, disloyalty, snobbishness are common. First of the ten novels in Raven’s ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, in which a Dickensian cast of characters overlap with each other’s lives, each book is a self-contained story from the end of the Second World War to 1973.

The Rich Pay Late opens as Donald Salinger and Jude Holbrook, co-owners of an advertising agency, discuss the purchase of a financial magazine, Strix. Jude is ambitious but without money, Donald has the cash but is cautious. And so starts the combined theme of gambling/business/love in which everyone is for himself and taking calculated risks is a way of life. Structurally, it is an ensemble story rather than concentrating on one central character; Raven introduces characters with short glimpses, some of one paragraph, of people who start off separate from Donald and Jude until their entwined lives are revealed. Not one character is superfluous.

This is a short novel of 250 pages, but intense. Slow, rich, satirical, it portrays a depressing and bleak take on human nature. The blurred story builds and builds as the appalling characters become real; at times a little dry, I persevered and am pleased I did as the pace of the final third was quicker.

The narrative centres around the sale of Strix and subsequently on a political scandal about Strix’s new board member, Peter Morrison MP. When the magazine’s owner receives the offer to buy his company, Morrison’s vote takes on additional importance. But is he a benefit or a liability?

A tale of politics, media, love affairs and betrayal between a network of upper and upper-middle class men and women with names like Vanessa, Somerset and Jude. In places, the dark humour reminds me of Nancy Mitford’s later novels. There is some discussion amongst reviewers about the correct order in which to read the series, I’m sticking with Raven’s order. Written fourth, he placed this first in his series.


Read Simon Raven’s 2001 obituary in the Daily Telegraph.

If you like this, try:-

‘Freya’ by Anthony Quinn

‘Wigs on the Green’ by Nancy Mitford

‘Hangover Square’ by Patrick Hamilton

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:

THE RICH PAY LATE by Simon Raven #bookreview via @SandraDanby https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3SY