Over on Vulpes Libris I did a rapid round-up of nine Scottish novels for St Andrew’s Night. Which is today, 30 November. Once you’ve read them, get yer kilt on, and get thee to a ceilidh.
In this excellent newspaper memoir-novel from 1951, it is always Monica Dickens’ turn to make the tea. She is a posh girl, the youngest staff member on the Downingham Post, and the only woman on this very small, local daily paper. She isn’t a campaigning career journalist: she’s really a writer rather than a reporter (she is Charles Dickens’ great-grand-daughter, after all). But there are things about this novel of the tricks of the journalist’s trade, a memoir of small-town post-war life in the 1950s, that produce some hard-hitting campaigning writing about living conditions after the war. Even the work in the newspaper office is absorbing, even when it’s deadly dull, because Dickens is above all a writer about people and their lives. She drew us effortlessly into wartime nursing in One Pair of Feet in 1942, because it’s the lives of the nurses we want to hear about, not the dramas and the tragedies. In this novel, we get drawn in again by human interest, not politics or corruption or sleaze or economic crises. The business of the local paper is based on human interest, which is all about what your neighbours are up to.
On getting her job at the Downingham Post, Dickens moved in with some friends she had met on a cruise, who had foolishly said ‘oh you must come and stay with us while you’re looking for somewhere permanent’. Obviously, a few weeks in, they turned out not to be friends at all, and decide to move to Switzerland. Clock ticking, Dickens hunts, with increasing desperation, for a room which she can rent that’s big enough to sleep in, and only finds one possibility, while she’s wearily interviewing the obnoxious and proud Mrs Goff, the mother of a girl who’s just got married, for details of the wedding. The girl is about to move out of Mrs Goff’s boarding-house to live with her new husband, and Dickens snaps up her room. Only later did she discover the hideous dark stain on the carpet underneath the bed, and the news stories about the foul murder done at this very address.
Dickens’ novel is the first I’ve read to really make me feel the miserable tension caused by a triumphant and domineering landlady over her cowed, captive, and trapped tenants. Some of these people were really very nice, prisoners of Mrs Goff’s caprices together, but all were at risk. With a permanent job, Dickens was relatively popular with the landlady, but the moment she had to come back to, or leave the house at an hour that did not tally with respectable working hours for a woman, like 9 to 5, she plummeted in the popularity stakes. Money, or the ability to pay the rent was nothing to the leverage caused by respectability, or the ability to make the landlady approve of you. A single man had the advantage over a single woman if the landlady liked a spare man or two about the house, but not if she didn’t.
I’m still puzzled as to how the exotic acrobat Maimie and her Japanese husband Mr Ling were even allowed inside the door of Mrs Goff’s censorious house. There was never any justice. The one thing that would guarantee an almost instant eviction by Mrs Goff was pregnancy, which now seems bizarre and inhumane, treating a married couple as if they were runaway servant lovers in a repellently Victorian manner. Myra, a married woman who comes to lodge in the house, is quite used to pretending that she isn’t married, because she’s a ballerina in a troupe run by another middle-aged female monster, who will sack any dancer who doesn’t confide in her enough, or show the slightest lapse in concentration for her Art. Dickens clearly felt very strongly about these extraordinary attitudes. This novel, if it is actually a novel and not just pasted wholly from life, we simply can’t tell because the seams are too closely and neatly sealed, is constructed to lead us slowly up a garden path of increasingly monstrous and dictatorial behaviour from the landlady to a terrible and heart-stopping conclusion.
As a piece of campaigning pseudo-journalism, My Turn To Make The Tea is also highly effective, since the episodes of human drama stick in the memory long after all the newspaper office stories have faded away. Stories of human behaviour also last longer than mere facts. Dickens’ colleagues are also human beings, of course, so the episodes about how they work, and how she works with them, stick because of their personalities. But even here, Dickens’ method of nailing petty injustice is to show what’s being done, and by whom, but not comment. The reader is given all they need to make their own minds up: no swaying needs to be done.
Those poor journalist colleagues are beaten into third place for Most Interesting Characters in the book, because the readers of the newspaper, and what they expect from it, are astonishingly powerful. The first chapter is all about Dickens having to apologise for getting a name wrong in a court report, and the demands for compensation from an aggrieved wife who wants all the details about her misnamed husband included in the paper’s apology. The hapless Dickens covers a good news story but she’s not allowed to print it because it’s come from outside the paper’s rigid parish-boundary-defined territory. Her editor, Mr Pellet, is convinced that no-one living outside the red line on his map of the area will buy his paper, so no stories emanate from there. And because she isn’t local, hasn’t grown up in the area, Dickens is hopelessly handicapped by not knowing the local notables, and by not having read all the news stories and gossip from the area for the past thirty years. If she had, she would never have lodged at Mrs Goff’s.
Where the journalist colleagues do come into play is when Dickens writes about the now deliciously old-fashioned and evocative way of putting the paper to bed. I first read about this method in Kipling’s Stalky and Co, when Beetle was running the school newspaper in the nineteenth century, so I find it comforting that a Victorian method was still being used in the outposts of English country newspaper-making sixty years later, despite all the technology changes. Court reporting is another fascinating eye-opener: if you’re used to reading about court cases, and coroners’ hearings, only through the English detective novel of the interwar years, reading the way these are reported will reverse your opinions of the silently scribbling journalists at the inquest. What they know, and what they’re thinking, is much more interesting than the detective’s surmises.
The Hanging Tree is the sixth in the Peter Grant Rivers of London series – about a wizard’s apprentice in a special department of London’s Metropolitan Police, dedicated to sorting out the ‘weird bollocks’ that the regular Met don’t wish to have anything to do with. I think the best way to update other fans, and to introduce new readers, is to go through the characters. These novels are so attractive in their world building and their characters, it’s hard to detect which elements are driving the plot hardest, and which parts are given the serious development attention.
Peter Grant: not much development in his character, since he’s pretty fully realised as the police officer son of a ex-heroin addict jazz trumpeter and a fearsome mother from Sierra Leone. He’s improved his spell-casting (well up to Third Level now), and still drools over fast cars with more numbers than letters in their names. He’s got really good at spouting meaningless Met jargon to angry Inspectors as a defensive measure. Spends a lot of time with:
Beverly Brook: a south London river goddess who has other business during the duration of this novel, but she’s on hand to relay messages, and keep things calm back at Mama Thames’ headquarters, because there is Big Trouble with her big sister:
Lady Tyburn: she’s the leading river goddess in this novel, as arrogant and frightening as ever, but we find out about her children, her husband, the trouble they cause her, and the trouble she will cause Thames Water if Peter doesn’t repay the favour she did him by rescuing him from being buried underneath the city by malignant fae, by getting her girl out of police custody like she told him to. What Lady Ty tells Peter when she loosens up and stops glaring is truly fascinating. Whoever knew that islands took university sabbaticals?
Nightingale: Britain’s top wizard, still dapper, still mischievous, still devastatingly attractive, still into Jags. Possibly the only wizard who can control Lady Ty.
Varvara: the Russian night witch is not in this plot, but we hear some bad words being said about her past duplicity by:
Lady Helena: a new character, an earth- and nature-oriented witch / wizard / practitioner who thought she’d killed the first Faceless Man, but now finds that Varvara was lying. She has some loose ethical approaches when it comes to medical and biological experimentation, last seen in Moon Over Soho. Her arrival clears up some old loose ends, and frays more.
Caroline: Lady Helena’s daughter, trainee witch, desperate to learn to fly and getting pretty good at trying. Very interested in swopping spells with Peter, but not in that way.
Guleed: Peter’s new sidekick, a ninja-hijabi with zero magical powers and no wish to learn any either. Much the better police officer in interrogations and polite questionings. Unfazed by weird bollocks, currently appearing in series three of the Rivers of London comic, Black Mould.
Lesley May: OMG she’s back. Well, if you’ve been reading the Rivers of London comics you’ll know that she’s back properly, and The Hanging Tree brings us up to date with quite how dangerous, powerful and focused she is. And we learn a little bit more about her relationship with The Faceless Man Mk II.
Toby the dog: has a sugar and fat issue, because:
Molly the demon maid: stayed up all night to bake a Victorian-standard high tea for Lady Helena’s visit to the Folly. She gives all leftover food to homeless meals charities, which is why there is never anything left in the kitchen for midnight snacks.
What I really liked about The Hanging Tree are the background details of the world-building, that show that it isn’t static. Things are changing, in the demi-monde and in Peter’s mundane world, as the two universes come closer together. Zachary is helping the Quiet People acclimatise their children to daylight. The Folly is bringing in mundane specialists to work on thaumaturgical blowout with Dr Walid, and to do the time-consuming analysis. The Chestnut Tree (site of the original last pub before the hanging tree at Tyburn) is staffed by people who might or might not be partly fae. But how do you spot a partly-magical person in a crowd of goths? The Hanging Tree also delivers the expected amount of police procedural operations in crowded, built-up areas in central London. The joy of blowing up well-known and much-hated landmarks must be part of the joy of writing these novels.
In summary, The Hanging Tree is not as heartbreaking as Broken Homes, nor as joyous as Foxglove Summer, but it’s as excellent as Peter’s first appearance, in Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot, as I believe it’s called in the USA).
This fine novel from 1930 about newspaper proprietors and their unexpected influences has a title that hasn’t travelled well. Be it known that the ‘Gay’ of the title is an invented Scottish clan-type name that probably derives from the medieval ancestry of its Westwater owners, headed by Lord Rhynns. ‘Gay’ is a place-name. Let’s get on with the plot.
Castle Gay is one of my Top Five Favourite John Buchan Novels. * I love it for its sunny, cheerful attitude, the thorough modernity of its characters and its theme, and for the glorious Scottish country walking and slithering around in ditches. It has some of the best disguise episodes in all of Buchan’s fiction, and solves a troubling question of intruder etiquette by the butler offering them a wastepaper basket for their revolvers. It is also a cracking good newspaper novel, because it draws on Buchan’s detailed, first-hand knowledge of the power of British press barons in the early twentieth century.
It is the late 1920s in Scotland. Thomas Carlyle Craw is a national newspaper proprietor and a celebrated pundit and columnist. His writing is half-baked, anodyne, pompous and opinionated, and utterly confident in the rightness of his views insomuch as they will sell his newspapers. He takes a political stance when he feels sure that he will not be held to account for it. He is also rather shy and unconfident among strangers, painfully aware that his speaking voice is an unctuous squeak, and he has never really had much experience with people. He employs staff, but he has no family or friends. He stays hidden behind his armoury of publications, that range from the scrappy penny weekly to august journals that come out at ponderous intervals. He sends editors to meet the politicians desirous of his opinions and advice, and he lives and works in a bubble. Castle Gay in south-west Scotland is his favourite retreat, which he rents from Lord Rhynns, and fancies himself secure among baronial trappings.
All this is poor preparation for the accident of identity that brings Craw to Kirkmichael railway station en route to the castle. Instead of being met by his own driver, he is suddenly grabbed from behind, smothered in a bag, and bundled into a car. On being deposited in a lonely but warm and comfortable cottage for safe-keeping, his horrified kidnappers realise that he is not, in fact, the rival candidate for a student election they’d intended to keep out of the way at Mrs Catterick’s house to the benefit of their own. They disappear from the plot, and the surprised but hospitable Mrs Catterick has a furious newspaper magnate on her hands. Trouble is, he has no money, the wrong clothes and footwear for Scottish moorland, and devoutly wishes to be kept out of rival newspapers’ notice, because of all things, Mr Craw’s dignity must be kept intact. The rival newspapers are all, very unfortunately, in the area, since there is a contentious by-election taking place in Castle Gay’s constituency, so even getting to his safe house is going to be tricky, or so Mr Craw’s paranoia believes.
Enter two of Buchan’s new generation of heroes, both doing well after an unfortunate beginning in the Glasgow slums: the Socialist and Craw journalist Dougal, and Jaikie the Cambridge undergraduate and rugby international. They try to rescue Mr Craw by taking him on a long walk through the hills to attempt to reach the castle, but then a further complication ensues. The Evallonian Monarchists are in town, and so are the Evallonian Republicans, both determined to see Mr Craw and demand his support in their country’s political struggles, since he has pontificated loudly and for a long time on their politics in his columns. Buchan updated Ruritania to create the proto-Fascist state of Evallonia, teetering between its ancient monarchy and a new, upstart Republicanism seething with Communists. Mr raw is petrified even more: now he has to dodge the rival newspapers and the crazy foreigners, who include a real prince. He’s caught a cold, and has been scared by a drunken man on the road who wants to sell him a scruffy dog (Jaikie bought the dog), and he is very, very far from his comfort zone. Mr Craw is also showing no signs of the leadership, decisiveness and command that he normally displays in his proper place. He has to be shown the way to find his self-respect again, to outface the intruders, and to deal decisively with the infestation of newspaper journalists whom he does not employ. Jaikie and Dougal do this, along with the Honourable Miss Alison Westwater, a resourceful tree-climbing daughter of the castle who is Buchan’s most successful female character (he was usually catastrophically bad at writing women). The dog, a nice little Sealyham, is named Woolworth, and Mr Craw recovers his courage with the help of a masked ball and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Castle Gay is a delightful farce on the trouble that newspapers can bring, and how interfering in the affairs of other people, without proper knowledge, is bound to cause trouble. Buchan has a lot of fun with the complexities of a press baron’s life and the flaws in the machine that can bring him down, if he is not paying enough attention to the weaknesses in his empire.
* Since you ask, the others are: Salute to Adventurers (1915), Mr Standfast (1919), The Dancing Floor (1926) and The Gap in the Curtain (1932). I admire The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle and The Three Hostages, but I’ve worked on them too often to want to reread them for pleasure.
Orphaned Maha lives in her grandparents’ house in Durban, where she has everything she needs, except her parents, who died in anti-apartheid protests. She has a perfectly nice life in a strict but well-off Muslim household, though her great-aunt and cousins next door are uniformly vile. If she were living with them she’d be Cinderella. Maha is a self-absorbed and rather blinkered teenager, focused on her own feelings and oblivious to other people’s sufferings, though she can be shaken out of this by her good-natured chaperone Zeenat. She takes everything in her life for granted: so far, very teenage.
Her Muslim family shapes her life completely. Maha’s mother eloped with a man who wasn’t Cape Indian but Cape Coloured (I’m using the terms used in the novel), so Maha is mixed race, and proud of it. Her grandfather’s strictness about prayers, and his removal of Maha’s father’s surname when he arranges her first passport, mould her expectations of a restricted life under his sharp eye. He refuses to let her go to any of the universities that have offered her a place, sending her to a girls’ madrassah instead. Maha realises that she will have to hold out for a husband willing to allow her to study, so she can transfer the burden of asking permission to him. This would seem like a grim future for women from outside this culture, but Lee’s skilful writing normalises Maha’s life completely, to let us experience her restrictions alongside her otherwise normal teenage crushes and agonies over boys.
Yes, boys. Maha’s unmarried teenage years are simply drenched in hormones. While she is a good Muslim girl, more or less, she has remarkable access to sexual advances. She is taken to Jeddah on pilgrimage, and is very nearly completely seduced by a Saudi prince who announces that he wants her as his second wife. Once she’s got out of his room, she won’t have anything to do with this, but they telephone each other for years. The brother of the madrassah teacher is all too willing to be led along by Maha’s flirtation practice, which is slightly shocking considering he’s just been released from his own madrassah. Hormones will out, and it does seem unhealthy not to allow them to. While The Story of Maha is not, primarily, The Story of a Muslim’s Girl’s Sex Life, it is undoubtedly focused on Maha’s need for emotional and physical completion, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Suitable music tracks and books of the period are slotted into the exposition where needed, to round out this lively character’s preferences, but she comes alive most in her actions: how she gets home from the nightclub on her own without trouble, how she negotiates the unwanted advances of a girl friend, how she treats Zeenat, and learns from her rebukes, and her easy, friendly relationships with her grandparents’ servants.
The political dimension of Durban in the 1970s and 1980s is filled in with back story fragments of Maha’s parents’ lives. She herself knows enough not to drive her car with the windows down, but otherwise she seems oblivious or indifferent to street riots and demonstrations. Or is she just passive? She’s a highly protected and highly privileged young woman, with absolutely no agency, no choices in her life. All she is expected to do is wait for marriage, and the trials by cooking and the social catastrophes that she endures in the courtship process are highly entertaining. The Story of Maha is written entirely from within one girl’s restricted perspective, to whom nothing very much out of the ordinary happens. The only consequence of her near-seduction by the Jeddah prince is a splendid wedding-present: he may as well be a dream for all the influence he has on the plot. Nothing shakes Maha’s life or her expectations of her future; she barely has any dreams of what she might do, because marriage has to be got through first before she can have a life of her own, with the right husband who will allow this. Yes, that’s an oxymoron. In the end, Maha’s Islamic studies give her the knowledge to make sure her marriage will work for her. I have no idea if Maha’s feminist solution is used by less well-educated women in real life: this is a cultural norm we have to guess at, if we’re not Muslim. This novel is not about how Maha shapes her life, because she doesn’t: she simply avoids catastrophe. Its charm is in showing what a Muslim girl’s life was expected to be, and the daily details of Durban life and slang (thank you, glossary). Maha is a sparky character, revelling in bad language as an expression of rebellion, alongside her radical, punkish but still correctly Islamic dress. Her story is absorbing and delightful. The sequel, Maha Ever After, will undoubtedly be gobbled up.
Sumayya Lee, The Story of Maha (2007 Kwela Books) ISBN 0 7957 0245 0, 978 0 7957 0245 7
Some years ago I wrote a scholarly investigation on the role of menswear in P G Wodehouse’s fiction (read about it on this page). As part of the background reading I waded my way through all his Psmith novels. They’re not my favourite Wodehouse stories, but I do have a fond appreciation for his cautionary tale about New York journalism in the early jazz age, Psmith Journalist (1915).
It isn’t a Jeeves and Wooster novel. It doesn’t produce rollicking, thigh-slapping hoots of laughter, though there are some fine funny moments. Rather, it is a study of an urbane and resourceful Cambridge student on the loose in hedonistic and slangy New York City, of how he runs rings around the utterly corrupt worlds of the yellow press and housing racketeers. Psmith, the eponymous hero, has been encountered before in earlier Wodehouse novels, mainly in a supporting role to his cricketing hero Mike Jackson. In this novel, Psmith wastes no time in getting on top of all situations that present themselves.
(I edited this paragraph in my original post when George Simmers put me right on a fact I got wrong, that Psmith Journalist first came out in magazine form in 1909.)
It’s an interesting novel because it doesn’t mention the war. It was written when Wodehouse was living in the USA, when the US had not yet entered the war. Wodehouse was fully occupied earning a living on Broadway, writing for magazines and the musical theatre, so his fiction naturally reflects this, rather than trench warfare and the home front.
But the most rewarding aspects of Psmith Journalist are its coruscating analyses of the US magazine industry, and the slog of a journalist’s life sub-editing appalling things for an appalling magazine. Billy Windsor has been appointed the temporary editor of Cosy Moments, a foul-sounding agglomeration of trite tat for the masses. He meets Psmith and Mike during a contretemps over a stray cat, and Psmith – bored with the cricketing tour with which Mike is absorbed – decides to help Billy Windsor out, whether Billy desires this or not. The scene could now be set for a series of catastrophes in which Psmith wreaks mayhem in New York in a Woosterian manner, because that’s what we expect from Wodehouse. But no: Psmith is the diametric opposite to Bertie Wooster. He is personally uncharming, but resourceful, annoyingly clever, and dashed efficient. Psmith can sort out every situation, every calamity, and deal with any specimen of humanity, and he always ends up on top. For readers accustomed to (and maybe bored with?) the personal disasters that Bertie Wooster trails behind him like clouds of glory, Psmith as a character is a remarkable tonic.
But the newspaper game is why I like this novel most. The repellent contributors to and the regular features in Cosy Moments are described lovingly. Psmith decides that its most revolting and saccharine contributors must go. By changing this best-selling but offensively glutinous rag to a go-getting, crime-fighting, scandal-revealing, campaigning newspaper, Billy will be swept up by one of the great New York dailies, where he really wants to be, and it won’t matter at all that the Cosy Moments owner, Mr Wilberfloss, will return from enforced sick leave to find his precious readers taking their dudgeon and subscriptions elsewhere. Unfortunately, the instigators of the housing rackets that Psmith first instructs Billy to reveal in cold print don’t approve. And then Mr Wilberfloss comes back early …
There is prize-fighting and boxing, there are New York night-clubs, there is election corruption, there is a good deal of Bowery dialect, there are shenaniganical plot twists, and throughout every farrago, Psmith sails supremely confident. No-one is hurt, no-one is seriously damaged, and Psmith actually gets the chief sufferer to pay him to go back to Cambridge. Thankfully, there is no girl: Wodehouse had not yet got to grips with his best way of writing female characters, and Psmith simply ignores them. Enjoy: I do, every time.
This novel from 1901 is surprisingly easy to whip through, considering it was co-written by two heavyweights of English literature, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford (in his earlier guise as Hueffer). Their writing style does not usually allow a fast and snappy read. They were both masters of the elliptical and the oblique, circumlocuting their subject in ever-decreasing circles, until the surrounding emotional atmosphere and social implications have been described so thoroughly that the reader feels intellectually blackmailed to draw their own conclusions about What Has Happened, and make sense of the space deliberately left blank in the centre of the action. Think Henry James, but with more left out.
I published an edition of The Inheritors some years ago, in my Political Future Fictions project, and read it again this week to kick off the next series of podcast scripts catch-ups from Really Like This Book, on newspaper novels (the first podcast was on a short story, so The Inheritors replaces it). The Inheritors is about the power of the press in the Edwardian period, which echoes powerfully in our own mediatised age. It’s a speculation on what would happen if a person from the Fourth Dimension manipulated western finances and politics to bring about society’s ruin. The newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines of the period are crucial, since they are the only way the public, and the markets, are given information. Other technologies exist for information dissemination – the ticker-tape reporting speeches in the House of Commons, and the telegram – but nothing is so powerful as the printed press, and whoever controls and manipulates the press, holds power.
The Conrad-Hueffer elliptical style of writing is well suited to science fiction, since it skates airily past the tricky details the reader doesn’t need to know, while giving the plot-relevant points a fine focus. Granger the impoverished journalist is walking along a country road to visit a friend near Dover, and finds he now has a walking companion, a beautiful and enigmatic young woman who calmly tells him that she is here from the Fourth Dimension to pursue her nefarious plan to bring down western civilisation, and that he won’t be able to do anything to stop her. The reader isn’t told how she gets there, or why she should do such a thing, because that’s not relevant, but instead is invited to observe Granger’s charming masculine response, of laughing at and not believing anything serious that a woman says. Since Granger tells his story as a narrative, he exposes his own fat-headed stupidity in being drawn into the woman’s strategy as her publicity tool.
She engineers a new commission for him, writing a character study of a repellently awful novelist (modelled on Hall Caine), which leads to more newspaper and magazine feature commissions that steadily exploit Granger’s facility for cheap and easy writing, and lead him and his professional reputation away from sound judgement about hard news. Granger ascends the ladder of popular journalism, becoming a biggish name in the political camp that the alien woman wants to bring down. She is in there too, having announced that she is Granger’s sister, and is mysteriously accepted as such by everyone, even Granger who knows that his real sister died years ago, and his aunt who couldn’t care less. She adopts Miss Granger as a paying-guest companion, which repeats the lesson of how corruption begins: by giving easy money to someone in need of it, who then becomes your creature. Granger is obsessed by ‘Miss Granger’ and wants to be with her whenever he can. He is hoist by his own petard when he realises that by having admitted her to a fake family relationship, he is now responsible for her reputation, and assumed to be in a privileged position of knowledge for everything he writes. He also realises, a little too late, that he is now socially unable to persuade her to fall in love with him, which is a good indicator of this young man’s self-absorption and disassociation from every moral value that ought to matter to him.
Miss Granger allows the world to assume that she is the mistress of a very prominent European duke (modelled on King Leopold II, he who pillaged the Belgian Congo), leaving Granger in a very uncomfortable social position. He realises that to the world he apparently colludes with this liaison (since brothers always control their sisters’ actions, right?) while writing popular magazine articles supporting the duke and his cause. To avoid the glances and sideways looks, Granger puts his head in the sand, so he will not see Miss Granger’s ploys. The duke’s aim is to extract large sums from the banks and the British government to build a great railway across his ducal fief of ‘Greenland’ (which stands for the Congo, though you’d think that Conrad and Hueffer could have chosen a better name), thus bringing yet more civilisation to the natives and exploitation opportunities for the whites. Remember who wrote Heart of Darkness in 1899.
Granger senses that something is up, but chooses not to look, and chooses to cling to Miss Granger’s enterprise with the pathetic hope of being able to be near her. He refuses to see how the great financial and political crash of the (new) century is being engineered, bringing down financiers, politicians, investors large and small, and reputations in all directions. And then he accidentally finds himself in a position to stop it all, to make a choice between truth and his personal interests. On the evening that everything come to fruition, he helps the editor of his newspaper – racked by sciatica – to put the paper to bed, by arranging the sub-editing of a late news report about the culmination of the crash, and sending it to the presses. Granger is so preoccupied that – almost too late – he reads the final copy, and realises that he has the power to let the story die, or allow Miss Granger’s machinations to succeed by printing a front-page story on the atrocities in ‘Greenland’ and the role of the British government in financing them.
The genius of this novel in illustrating the power of the press is showing how even if a journalist or an article is ‘only’ one cog in a machine, not responsible for the whole, they must still take responsibility for their own sphere, their own actions. In its day, the Edwardian press was the only public information medium, delivering publicity, swaying public opinion, driving the financial markets, revealing the truth, exposing lies, and giving journalists importance and influence out of all proportion to their intrinsic worth. The weak journalist is the flawed tool, to be exploited ruthlessly.