Finally. I can cross Priestley’s ‘The Good Companions’ off my list. Not that it wasn’t worth it. It was. The depth of character, the complicated nature of plot development - written in a time before technology made tracking, copying, editing easier - is engaging. At just over 630 words the book is an achievement. Jess Oakroyd tops and tails the piece. He had the potential to be the most interesting character. This was because Jess left his job as a carpenter ‘at t’mill’ to to roam the country as a handyman with a travelling concert party. Jess’s horizons had previously been limited to ‘Bruddersford’ and his ‘trade’. Into late middle age before he had any desire to broaden his experiences, Jess escaped Bruddersford overnight in the back of a lorry with two crooks. How would this law abiding character cope with the challenge of the open road?
The problem was that Jess floated through his experiences. He had little ambition or passion. He was content to be at the service of others. He did not drive the plot and disappeared for large parts of the novel. He returned towards the end as a useful plot device. He was there to service the needs of the other characters and in the end, the needs of the author. His initial experiences at the hands of the lorry drivers and the showmen were engaging, but were soon forgotten when the story of Inigo and Susie took centre stage.
It may or may not be true that the ‘’angry young men’ of the 1950’s wanted to assert working class characters as agents in their own story as a reaction to characters like Jess Oakroyd. But for me, it was true that Jess, at the end of 600 pages, became just a tad irritating.