Author: Jack Trevor Story
Year of publication: 1963
Back cover blurb: 'Live Now, Pay Later is not quite of this world, and certainly not of the next: it belongs to the world of the 'never-never,' somewhere on the outer fringe of that provincial England which Kingsley Amis and John Braine have shown us with almost shocking frankness.
In Jack Trevor Story's provincial town - fast in the grip of Hire Purchase but living it up with brittle gallantry - we are shot into a convulsive existence of rapid results, devious politics, easy women, and easy payments. Somehow, though reluctantly, you have to hand it to the feckless Albert, prince of tally-boys, whatever squeezes he puts on the housewives. As they surrender to his promiscuous glamour, they seem to be caught up in a sorry serial where there's always another thrilling instalment next week. All except for Treasure: after eighteen months she had had enough.
You're bound to laugh at the clipped and bawdy dialogue of this social merry-go-round. But you'll wince at the cutting edge of this brilliant writing.'
Reading reveals: Jack Trevor Story is best known for writing the novel The Trouble With Harry, made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, and for being the inspiration for Jim Henson's '80s TV series The Storytrevor. Here, he explores the social menace of Hire Purchase, infecting the working classes with the promise of living beyond their means.
It begins tremendously well, with the salesman and debt collector protagonist sleazing and furtively shagging his way around town as one did before the sixties properly happened. As it goes on, however, Story spreads his net too widely, and our attention is directed towards the business meetings of estate agents and the like, and the opportunity for an immersive character study is lost. Towards the end, the kitchen sink grimness of abortion, rape and the like sits uneasily with an increasingly comic plot, and a ridiculously unlikely accidental death pretty much threw me out of the book completely. You're left with the impression of a quite old-fashioned English comic novel being awkwardly dressed in new-fangled kitchen sink clothes, which is a shame, because the early chapters pack a powerful punch. The film version does very well on IMDB though, so maybe that irons it all out a bit.
Random paragraph: 'From this Mr Callendar had reasoned there was more to Arnold than appeared on the surface; men who picked their nose in public were often underprivileged in some ghastly, unwholesome way. Later his faith was justified when he had learned that Arnold had once worked for a shady second-hand car dealer who had been handling stolen cars when the police caught up with him; it was to Arnold's immense credit, in Mr Callendar's opinion, that the car dealer and all his staff had gone to prison with the single exception of Arnold, against whom, apparently, there had been no evidence. Or at least, no believable evidence in the face of Arnold's steadfast denials.