39. The Good Companions, J.B. Priestley (1929)

I came to J.B. Priestley quite recently when I picked up a copy of his theatrical novel Lost Empires in a second-hand bookshop, drawn by the photo of a rather tatty showgirl on the front cover. Suffice to say it was a revelation, and now I’m gradually working my way through his fiction. The Good Companions is his biggest novel in every sense – it’s long, it’s panoramic, and it was massively popular from the day of publication. Set between the Wars, it follows the fortunes of a disparate group of malcontents all of whom leave home for various reasons and are united in a struggling touring concert party. The characters are loveable, the narrative whips along and there’s a pungent sense of place and period, something Priestley excelled at. So why, I ask myself, are his novels so badly known? His plays get regular revivals, but the novels are overlooked. Obviously the critics, then and now, dislike him because he’s straightforward and popular, an ‘anti-modernist’ I suppose. But that doesn’t mean he’s not good. The Good Companions would make an excellent holiday read, if anyone’s looking for inspiration.

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