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
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