John Braine was an Angry Young Man. One of a group of primarily working class writers emerging in the 1950s and using their art to voice disillusionment with the post-war class constraints of British society. His début Room at the Top is a passionate story of a man seeking his destiny whilst covering themes this group of writers was exploring at the time; oddly it doesn’t feel out of place today as some of the issues are not dissimilar to inequalities still present in our society now.
Joe Lampton yearns for a better life away from the industrial town of his birth. With new accountancy qualifications under his belt he finds the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side; life decisions are difficult and heartbreaking wherever you live and whichever class you belong to, but the cars are nicer and parties more exclusive if you have money. Room at the Top asks questions about class and what it means to fit in, which sacrifices need to be made to gain acceptance and whether ultimately those sacrifices are worth it if they make you miserable. Joe gives up a passionate life with the married older woman he adores to marry up and gain the status he craves. It doesn’t end well. Joe is not a character you can warm to because he has a selfish and manipulative nature, neither of which Braine glamourises or makes apology for. Like Lynne Reid Banks’ The L-Shaped Room this book offers a fascinating insight into that difficult post war period, where almost everyone questioned the status quo and wanted more for themselves…cracking stuff.
There’s a great black and white adaptation of Room at the Top available to watch on YouTube, or look out for the more recent BBC adaptation with the wonderful Maxine Peake