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Savoy Books 
Something For Nothing

Jack Trevor Story


1980

193mm x 125mm

Soft covers

Reprint of 1963 Secker & Warburg edition

Distributed by New English Library

176pp

ISBN 0 86130 031 9

Something For Nothing

  The second Albert Argyle novel. The market seems to be dropping out of Hire Purchase and so Albert switches to Trading Stamps. But you can't get something for nothing, as Jack well knew. Harry Douthwaite cover art.

For more on Jack Trevor Story, see Michael Moorcock's obituary piece, Jack's Unforgettable Christmas.


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Reviews

"There's enough action and invention to fuel at least three Richard Lester comedies."

SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

 

"The enterprising Manchester-based publisher, Savoy Books, has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring out in paperback the Collected Edition of Jack Trevor Story's fiction. As his books become available once more (10 are planned at present), it will be possible for a wide audience to appreciate the richness and breadth of Story's writing. Already published are Man Pinches Bottom, a comic Sixties tale of cartoonist Percy Paynter, caught up in a case of mistaken identity in a murder hunt, and a new book, Jack On The Box.

Jack On The Box contains, among many other things, some pertinent comments on the Story style, which one reviewer as long ago as 1955 said was "as difficult to describe as the taste of strawberries." (The book in question was The Trouble With Harry, which was filmed by Hitchcock.)

But like many writers whose commercial success is, at best, intermittent, Jack Trevor Story's publishers have been legion and his works are for the most part out of print. Even Live Now, Pay Later, the classic tale of the world of the "never-never", of hire purchase debt, has been unavailable for something like a decade.

Albert Argyle is the tallyboy of Live Now, Pay Later (1963). Contemporary opinion saw this book and the two which followed—Something For Nothing and The Urban District Loveras part of the Angry Young Man movement.

Like most labels, this one concealed more of the trilogy's qualities than it illuminated, for while Albert's brashness and the verve of Story's writing evoke distant echoes of Joe Lampton and Lucky Jim, both the setting and the author's preoccupation are a long way from John Braine. Albert Argyle is a sharp lad, educated at secondary modem school and, driven to a kind of frenetic entrepreneurial activity by the shadow of the "Agricultural Tractor Factory (which) was Albert's private salt mine. Physically and spiritually it had loomed over him, ever since leaving school."

The factory was where his schoolmates clocked in and out, and one of the most powerful moments in The Urban District Lover comes when Albert realises that Callender—the ace tallyman and Albert's former employer—has finally succumbed and gone to work there. The personal guile of Callender, and that of Albert, cannot match the power of the clique of local businessmen and councillors that run this Home Counties town, set somewhere between Hertford and Cambridge.

Albert Argyle dies at the end of—The Urban District Lover in a perverse tragicomic accident that is typical of Jack Trevor Story's power of invention. The book also introduces one Horace Spurgeon Fenton, an author who holds hands with Albert's wife Alice behind the shelves in the public library where she works. Horace is the next of Story's central figures, appearing in I Sit In Hangar Lane, One Last Mad Embrace, and the tender and funny Hitler Needs You, set in pre-war Cambridge and the Fens where the author himself grew up.

A comment in Jack On The Box provides the appropriate phase for the latest shift in Story's work:

"Another skin gone, the anonymous third person god-eye removed and a disreputable version of the author babbled to his readers. The last door—apart from the trapdoor that's always ahead—opened five years further on in 1970 and 71 and Jack and Maggie came through, first in Paris in the Evening Standard and then on the arts page of The Guardian. Two fictional characters but with skins so thin you could see the blood."

Writing about love—sexual love—is, in the end, the thread that runs through all of Story's work from Live Now, Pay Later to Screwrape Lettuce. One of the most powerful scenes in all his novels is the moment when Coral, a new customer, is initiated into the wonders of Callender's hire purchase warehouse in Live Now, Pay Later.

Undeterred by the smutty jokes of the junior salesmen, her excitement grows as she realises how much she can take away on the never-never. Albert Argyle, apologising for his colleagues, takes her into the office to finalise terms—33 bob a week. "They laughed together. It was the beginning of a weekly relationship which could last longer than a marriage". For the customer, Albert's attraction is inseparable from the attraction of the goods he sells.

For all his philandering, Albert too, is given a complex sexual awareness by the author. In Something For Nothing (where he gets involved in a trading stamps operation), he is sitting in a pub listening to an all-male group telling dirty jokes:

"They were still schoolboys in a lavatory laughing the fear out of their ignorance of Woman... Soft-seeking, beautiful, heart-rending woman in all her delicate shades of emotion and love and need and only stinking old man dog for her companion. Somewhere evolution had gone wrong. Woman deserved a special creature for her mate. Albert could well understand Lesbianism; the soft and the softer yet."

A curious paragraph, with its mixture of sentimentality and surprise. The art of Jack Trevor Story lies in such mixtures."

DAVE LAING

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