Sometimes, Frederic Raphael manages not only glitter but 24-carat gold. His early novels, mainly about being reluctantly Jewish in the suburbs, were a kosher delight.
Then in 1976 came The Glittering Prizes, the novel, and award-winning BBC series with Tom Conti, in which pushy lads and lasses made their names in Cambridge during the early Fifties, and subsequently in the media and academia. The dialogue was a joy – improbably witty – and the undertones were serious. It seemed to me, when I surveyed Cambridge student novels over the past 50 years, to be easily among the front runners.
Raphael's dialogue risked the merely improbable in subsequent books and television dramas, but he was back on form with the autobiographical A Spoilt Boy.
Now comes Fame and Fortune, which is being serialised on Radio 4, as was its predecessor, to great acclaim. This novel is a sequel to The Glittering Prizes: it picks up at the end of the Seventies the prize-winners and also-rans last seen at the beginning of that decade. Now, it is the son of Adam Morris who is at Cambridge – or is he? Morris himself, slightly famous and pretty fortunate, still lives in hope that his director friend will film one of his novels. As before, he rather bangs on about being Jewish, a point one would hesitate to make were it not that other characters make it too: "You always call yourself a Jew before anyone else does."
Few of the personae are precisely where they want to be or, if they are, they doubt that it is the right place: "Success is what other people have." The dialogue is even more witty and even more improbable than before. The puns are relentless: "Cumquat what may," "Get thee behind me, Stan," and "Pop goes the wassail".
The disadvantage of this is that conversations between completely different characters can have a somewhat samey tone; the advantage is that every page sparkles with bitchy quips.
The novel slides from trivia to tragedy and back again with the surest of feet – apart from one section. When Adam is asked to write a script for a reclusive director (another of Raphael's credits is his screenplay for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut), the verbal duelling is pretentious to the point of parody: "Civilisation is barbarism, nothing stands between anything and anything else." Otherwise, what could be described as Prizes II is definitely on the gold standard. Let's hope for a Prizes III.Reuse content