The Greatest of The Angry Young Men was a Woman

The World of Laura Del Rivo's under appreciated masterpiece The Furnished Room

I think it’s quite pertinent to say from the get go that Joe Beckett, the main character of Laura Del Rivo's The Furnished Room, is not simply the John Braine/Colin Wilson style of Angry Young Man but more the archetypal Angry Young Person. That Angry Young Person all us weird folk were who spent more time reading books than playing football. In Beckett’s case this is heightened by the small town in which he lives where he believes himself 'an adult in a world of children' and leads to him thumbing a lift up to London. (The capital! Always a mecca. Dublin certainly was for me back in those pre-Amazon days. Dublin had so much! Real bookshops! Tower Records! A thousand pubs and cafes! I imagine London would have been the same. So I went to Dublin and Beckett to London.)

(Laura Del Rivo in Peter Russell's bookshop, where the author worked at this time, was used on the inside cover of The Furnished Room. 1961)

Now, as I said, given Beckett’s archetypal AYP status he comes equipped with what all of us did, that burdensome problem of a philosophy. We scratch and scrape through the minds of many to inevitably be left disillusioned by the dreary inevitability of having to form our own, this however doesn’t occur until we’ve fumbled about with many other people’s that, though adapted as a way of seeing the world, never quite gel with our true perceptions and feelings of it. Beckett chooses Nihilism as a perfect antidote to the Catholicism he been raised with. The latter a world that is filled with meaning and in which we have free will to the latter which is devoid of it and people have far less free will than they think they do as Joe tells Dyce, the huskster villain of the novel.

(above; Laura del Rivo's own Furnished Room in Notting Hill, London - 1961)

Most times the most difficult thing with disposing of these youthful philosophies is that even though most of them are far from accurate – Beckett’s physical desire for Ilsa, his on again/off again lover, which he intellectualises as meaningless, being the most obvious – some actually are. The locals at the cafes he frequents 'Soho characters; bums and layabouts dressed like artists' are still around today and nobody would deny their existence nor would they the 'writers who did not write, painters who did not paint, (or the) petty thieves who were so unsuccessful that they were always scrounging the price of a cup of tea'. Such perceptions make it impossible to believe in anyone else’s perceptions of the world as they have already reinforced our own, albeit borrowed, outlook on things. Beckett’s mother even speaks of his friends 'second hand mistresses and second hand ideas' but she too is stuck in her own beliefs which prevent the knowledge she has from being anything but a trifle to him. Father Dominic of the local parish church and Gash, a sort of tragi-comic genius/recluse, have equally the same problem. They don’t speak the same language as him.

But Dyce does.

Dyce deals out his theories on money and the need for discipline so well that after Beckett says; 'You understand my ideas very well don’t you? That makes me suspect them.' Dyce deftly retorts 'No, I’m a fraud old boy.' This eases Beckett’s suspicion that he is being manipulated and gives Dyce his chance to groom the AYP into whatever he wants by both speaking and not speaking the language of the AYP.

In many ways, though I find it hard to say, I’m certainly glad I didn’t read The Furnished Room when I was in my teens or early twenties as I would probably have just gone along with Joe’s beliefs in much the same way as I did with Camus’ Mersauelt, another anti-hero outsider who got my vibe and knew his shit. Thing about Mersauelt is that he was a psychopath (everyone forgets he emptied the rest of the gun into the body of the man he kills on the beach) and Joe was an Angry Young Man trying to come to terms with a cognitive dissonance about love and life and identity while being done over instead. When he says 'In the end the lie had won' in one way I like to think of 'The lie' as the comfort blanket of ideas that we create to shield ourselves from the reality of how we truly think and feel about them. What is most important is given how ten years down the line I can see how wrong I was about life, The Furnished Room makes me wonder how I’ll feel in another ten years about my thoughts and beliefs now. How should this make me feel about these same views knowing as I do that they may be ridiculous in retrospect? It’s a big question and it’s these sorts of questions that all works of brilliance ask. The Furnished Room confronts us with the naive surety we hold so deeply when we first achieve a sense of independence. When we claim more than we know and will fight to the death in a barely conscious state of Sartrean Bad Faith to assert opinions that render criticism idiotic in the liminal world that produces them. We despair. We deny meaning to find meaning. We speak with nothing to say. The reason as to why we do this? We're young.

(Del Rivo with novelist 'Queen of Noir' Cathi Unsworth - circa 2016)

55 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All