July 16th, 2009

thinking

Billy Liar at Fifty



When I quoted from Billy Liar in my journal recently, it was suddenly another of those books I had to read again, immediately. Coincidentally, it’s an anniversary. The book was first published in 1959, cybersofa inscribed this copy ‘1969’, Keith Waterhouse was born in 1929. So Keith Waterhouse was eighty earlier this year, Billy Liar is fifty, cybersofa would have been sixty. Good job I’m not Iain Sinclair, or I’d be making something of it.

This book was a success from its first publication, suiting the Angry Young Man fashion of the period: Room at the Top, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and so on. What sets it apart in my opinion is how funny it is. Billy Fisher lives in the Yorkshire town of Stradhoughton with his parents, who are proud to describe themselves as ‘ordinary folk’. Teenage Billy is literate and knowledgeable, having been to the Technical School but has still ended up as a clerk in an undertakers’ office. He's screamingly bored with his family, work and Stradhoughton in general, and ambitious to be a writer. Unfortunately he lacks the will and gumption to do anything about it but resorts to fantasy in the imaginary world of Ambrosia. He’s unable to face reality at all, spinning ludicrous tales and at one time getting himself engaged to three girls at the same time.
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