One of the projects I got to work on this spring was an introduction to a new US edition of John Braine’s 1957 novel Room at the Top. The edition is coming from Valancourt Books, a specialty micropress focusing on new editions of rare 18th, 19th, and 20th century literature, especially Gothic, weird, supernatural, mystery, and queer literature. Braine’s novel is a classic of mid-century British fiction, part of a moment loosely called the Angry Young Men. It was also made into an equally significant film of the British New Wave.
The novel tells the story of Joe Lampton; at the start of the novel, set in the present, he is successful but complacent, looking back at his ambitious youthful self ten years earlier with a mixture of admiration and scorn. The narrative unfolds in a tracing of his rise to affluence and the women he loved, lost, and used to get there. Room at the Top is a compelling look at the moral implications of a society defined by increasing affluence and the stark gap between haves and have-nots. It asks whether material success and comfort is worth the loss of your soul.
While this is a little outside my usual areas of research, I do teach the Angry Young Men and British New Wave, and it was a real pleasure to delve into Braine’s career and think about this novel. I’m happy to see it back in print and available from Valancourt–with the original cover art from the first edition.