The authorJohn P Marquand started out as a journalist before achieving a comfortable living writing spy thrillers featuring a Mr Moto. He then turned to the novels for which he would want to be remembered, depicting "certain phases of contemporary life", as he put it. Those which lasted longest are this one and H. M. Pulham Esquire.
The 1980s were the time of routine at work and in the home. In the 1990s, the patter of the adviser managing Jeffrey's investments while making money by churning struck home. This was even more striking in the Noughties, though, as my own income became even more intermittent, just as striking was the comfortable existence of all the main characters, with the exception of Jeffrey's incorrigible brother, Alf.
Picking the book up now, it is noticeable how the figure of Walter Newcombe dominates the early chapters. Newcombe is an ingenuous foreign correspondent who has risen without trace, David Frost-like, though without Frost's attention to detail. Perhaps, virtually retired now, apart from politics, and becoming an armchair critic, I now come back to the craft of writing and the realisation, like Jeffrey, that originality is a rare gift. The references to ageing also resonate more, though Jeffrey is no more than middle-aged in today's terms.
It may not be a great book, but it is certainly a good one and one that reflects sections of American society as Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh did of British. The book finishes, as I should have remembered, in the period between Pearl Harbor and Christmas 1941. Appropriate then, to finish with this paragraph from the last chapter:
You could not tell what anyone was thinking. The windows of the stores were full of Christmas decorations; the dogs were being aired; the trucks were rumbling up the avenue. There was a familiar background of sound that pulsed through the air like heartbeats. There was the smell of spruce from the Christmas trees on the sidewalks. There was the clatter of ash cans from a truck, on which was written the admonition about keeping the city clean, and the signs wre still on the green busses: "Welcome to New York." It was astonishing to see everything move on as it had always moved - too much in the shops, too much traffic in the cross streets, too many people, too much of everything. But everyone must have known there would never be a day quite like that again. Everyone must have known that everything was changing. The trouble was you could not see it change.