Newest Review: ... want to make up your mind what you do want to do" his mother tells him (how many of us have heard that before!) Of course, lik... more
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Billy Liar - Keith Waterhouse
Member Name: pje
Billy Liar - Keith Waterhouse
Date: 18/05/01, updated on 18/05/01 (147 review reads)
Advantages: short & funny
I invite you to enter the kingdom of Ambrosia - a fantasy land invented by it's beloved President: Billy Fisher, in order to escape from the boring Yorkshire town of Stradhoughton in the 1950's.
Billy is a compulsive liar - no, that's too harsh, he's a compulsive fantasist. Not so much an angry young man, as a feckless one.
(I can't help wondering, what does 'feckless' mean in Ireland?)
The book chronicles the events of one fateful Saturday
during which all of Billy's lies begin to catch up with him.
As well as daydreaming the day away in his beloved Ambrosia
he spends most of his time thinking. (No, that's not a euphemism - remember, sex hadn't been invented before the 1960's.)
Billy has two types of thinking: No.1 thinking which is deliberate, and controlled; and No.2 thinking which consists of obsessive speculation about all the what-if's of life, and to be avoided.
"You want to make up your mind what you do want to do"
his mother tells him (how many of us have heard that before!)
Of course, like all lazy sods, what he wants to be is a scriptwriter. And this dream is, supposedly, on the verge of being fulfilled - comedian Danny Boon has written to Billy offering him a job
down in London. Yeah, right. The other one's got bells on Billy!
Billy is "just about thraiped wi' Stradhoughton" (don't bother looking that up - it's another one of his inventions.) He tells everyone that he is off to London. But when he tries to resign from his job as an undertaker's clerk, a job he is dying to leave
of course - sorry, couldn't resist that - there is a complication:
the small matter of some calendars he was supposed to post nine months earlier. Like a lazy postmen hiding mail in his shed because he can't be bothered to do his rounds, Billy has stashed them all under his bed and embezzled the postage
His hopeless attempts at getting rid of the calendars - by trying
to flush them down the loo at work, for example - are comical.
And then there is his love life...
He manages to sabotage his engagement to Barbara (who he calls "The Witch") by borrowing her engagement ring, supposedly to take it to the jeweller's "to be adjusted", and giving it to his other girlfriend Rita! Oh, and then there's Liz as well...
His habitual embroidery of the truth, has left him tangled in a web of pointless lies...
He has told:
- fiancee Barbara that his dad is a sea-captain.
- fiancee Rita that his dad is a cobbler (cobblers is he!)
- fiancee Barbara that he has a budgie called Roger.
- his pal Arthur's mother about his non-existent sister Sheila.
- his own mother that Arthur's mother has a broken leg.
I love the brilliantly realistic description of a northern working class family of the time, and it is riddled with those wonderfully colourful expressions that punctuated my own childhood, like:-
"Oo hark at Lord Muck!"
"If I come up there you'll know about it!"
"I'll clean shirt him round his bloody earhole!"
It's a short book (187pp) and very funny. I cannot understand why "Lucky Jim" is considered a classic while this is forgotten.
I look forward to reading Keith Waterhouse's new novel: "Soho".
There was a film version made in 1963 starring Tom Courtenay, and a West End musical version is planned with ex-EastEnder
Sid Owen (Rickkkkkyyyyyyyyyyy) a candidate for the role of Billy - I'm not convinced that this is the greatest piece of casting ever.
Darren Day and Ronan Keating are also vying for the role. Eeek.