by Michael Frayn
An early work by this accomplished author, this story is based in a newsroom of the 1960s, where Frayn himself cut his journalistic teeth. It is satirical, and often very funny – as when an international group of reporters is taken by air to report on a Middle-Eastern resort, and the journey is held up in every conceivable way, which had me laughing out loud.
John Dyson, the main character and a sub-editor on a newspaper which is, we assume, a thinly-disguised Guardian or Observer, fumbles his way through the demands of work and family life in a snapshot of what now seems to be irretrievably in the past. Even the description of the sparse lodgings of the new recruit to the team, which I recognise only too well from my student years, is redolent of something that has gone for ever. As has the Fleet Street pictured so well in this novel: indolent journalists (all male), smoky atmosphere, long lunch breaks in the pub.
The title reflects the fact that most work in such offices was done “towards the end of the morning”, when journalists scurry to complete their assigned tasks before heading off to the pub.
The book reminded me strongly of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, and I think I prefer the Waugh book – though perhaps I should read it again before making this judgement. It was, after all, the first Waugh book I had ever read.
The best part of reading this charity-shop acquisition was the introduction to this edition, written by Frayn some 40 years after the original publication. Insightful, thoughtful, beautifully put. Boy, that man can write!
For an entertaining commentary on journalism in C20 fiction, read Christopher Hitchens in the Guardian.