Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 221 pages; 2000.
Michael Frayn’s Towards the end of the Morning should come with a warning: don’t read in public. Honestly, I have not read such a humorous book in a long time. It is laugh-out-loud funny.
It’s set in London at an unspecified newspaper during the declining years of Fleet Street. While it’s a story about journalism and its struggle with changing work practises and the emerging “glitterati” of television broadcasting, it’s essentially a comedy of manners.
At the heart of the story are two journalists – the older, more uptight and ambitious John Dyson, who is anxious to find an easy route out of his mundane job, and the younger, more laid back and directionless Bob Bell, who doesn’t have the courage to dump his girlfriend. The two of them work in the crossword and nature notes department but spend most of their time in the local drinking establishments complaining about their jobs and their workloads.
Through their day to day struggles, Frayne is able to tackle some big themes – old school journalists coming to grips with an emerging tide of bright, young and worryingly efficient graduate trainees; newspaper journos trying to break into the much better paid field of broadcast journalism; the class system; how to get on the property ladder; and race relations – but he does it very deftly and with great humour.
Towards the end of the Morning was written in 1967, but it holds up well as a modern classic. And Frayn’s use of dialogue is spot on. He captures the art of conversation very well, often with more than three or four people speaking at once, very tricky if you’ve ever tried to do it yourself. It is perhaps Frayn’s ear for dialogue that has made him such a gifted and much-praised playwright (Copenhagen and Noises Off are two of his more well known ones, although he has written 11 others).
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It would appeal to anyone looking for a fast-paced funny read.