Saturday, 16 July 2016

NEW GRUB STREET by George Gissing

This is a book about struggling young artists, and in my opinion it is totally authentic, because it's main focus is on money.

Not, obviously, on having money, but on not having it. It's probably the most money-focused book I've ever read; far more than many about bankers, or artistocrats. That's because one of the best things about having money is that you don't have to think about money. The writers in this book discuss Greek poetry, and plotlines, and publication, but they spend far more time on where you can get a loaf of bread for a half a pence less, and what makes a shirt collar last, and how long you will live if you pawn your overcoat in November vs December. My key take-away: damn the Edwardian era was tough. Struggling artists in those days really know how to STRUGGLE. Also, side bar: thank god for the NHS.

Overall, it's a grim story, in which an idealistic young writer, who wants to do good work, ends up impoverished, and dead, while a hack, who acknowledges what he writes is rubbish, and who reluctantly (and yet enthusiastically) marries for money ends up happy and fulfilled. There a clear strong sense of the inevitability of the triumph of pragmatism, and the foolishness of aspiration. A sobering read.


I started reading this book in the glorious pre-pandemic days of one week ago when COVID was some Chinese problem.   It begins as a medi...