e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “Michael Frayn”

30 Day Book Challenge – day 25: Favourite biography

My Fathers Fortune coverFor this topic I have no hesitation. I’ve read numerous biographies in my time and could list several that I really like but, of the ones I recall reasonably clearly (oh, for the memory of an elephant!), my favourite is My Father’s Fortune by Michael Frayn.

There are several reasons why I like this book.

It is the story of an ordinary man and it celebrates the heroism of the ordinary life. Frayn senior was born with no particular advantages: his family were not rich and the welfare state didn’t exist when he was young so he missed out on a lot of education and opportunities. Early he developed deafness which made his working life harder than it was for others. But he progressed in his career as salesman, provided for his family and educated his children to have more possibilities in their lives.

Michael Frayn is a writer who can illuminate the ordinary to show its extra-ordinariness and its universality. In this case one of the universal themes is the relationship of father and son – all men have this relationship, even orphans experience it, but as an absence. Another is the value of keeping on even when the going is tough or, worse still, boring.

On a more personal level, the book describes England as it was shortly before my own memories begin and gives me an idea of where my school and neighbourhood came from.

Picture from Goodreads.

‘Towards the End of the Morning’ by Michael Frayn

This book, published in 1969, takes a humorous but nevertheless realistic view of Fleet Street and the newspaper world. Not the world of paparazzi and telephone hacking, but that of one of the quieter departments (not actually named).

The writing is beautiful but not pushy and the characters are clearly drawn. Here is the real world of muddled ambition, frequent anxiety, occasional joy and confused social relationships.

The characters develop in subtle and varied ways, and each is granted a moment of self-insight that they feel will change their lives. As with most revelationery, life-altering moments, the change doesn’t outlive the next mundane demand on their attention.

Towards the end of the book there is a discussion (in a pub – where else) in which an array of main and marginal characters talk about their ambitions to get out or specialise, preferably by the time they’re thirty or at least before forty.

How these characters get on with their plans is indicated at the very end in an amusing, but also rather sad, scene.

If any journalists who formed the models for this story are still alive, they will be in their 70s and 80s and likely looking back wondering what all the sound and fury was about. Those who didn’t make it to so great an age are probably gazing down from the great newsroom in the sky, laughing themselves silly.

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