There have always been public schoolboys adrift in Soho. I was there myself in the late 1960s, licking my wounds after a disastrous attempt at becoming a stand-up comedian up north. The hero of this novel, St Paul’s-educated James Ross, finds himself on the same hallowed ground back in the early 1930s. An out-of-work poet, ditched by his girlfriend and surviving on dead-end, part-time jobs, he now gets himself hired as – oh dear, oh dear – a rent collector.
So far, so bad, but he tells his deeply dingy, enjoyably joyless, tobacco-stained story in a strangely jocular vernacular. Describing himself as ‘an impulsive sort of chap’ and asking the reader intimate rhetorical questions – ‘Have you ever waited at table?’; ‘Do you know those literary magazines, I wonder?’ –