Thursday, 16 July 2009

Fridays Forgotten Books: CHOICE OF STRAWS by E.R.Braithwaite

Choice Of Straws was a novel published by The Bodley Head in 1965 and came out in 1968 as a Pan paperback.
It is an intriguing and clever book - the reason I say clever will become apparent later.
The story is told from the first person point of view by Jack Bennett who is the elder of identical twins. He and his brother, David, spend their free time coming down to London from their home in Upminster, Essex to go to the jazz clubs in Soho. Though there are times when they venture further afield for a little 'fun'. They hunt down solitary folk and beat them up - only when the story opens it is clear that this time they meet someone prepared to fight back. David is knocked to the ground and falls on broken glass. Enraged he rises up with a knife in his hand and stabs the victim. Wounded, David goes in search of a hospital and tells Jack to go home.
He is hardly through the front door and told his parents that David is seeing a girl home than the police are knocking on the door to tell them that David has been killed in a car crash and so has the driver who is revealed as a medical doctor, Bill Spencer.
At the inquest Jack meets Bill's sister, Michelle, who Jack finds to be a bit aloof. At first, he wants to knock her off her pedestal but as the story progresses he realises that he is truly attracted to her. This despite the fact that he is having a relationship with Ruth who he had met at a jazz club.
This is a journey of discovery for Jack who comes to terms with life against the background of the police investigation into the death of David and the doctor - and the murder of a black man in Stepney.
So to add some texture to what appears to be a straight forward story. Michelle is coloured but born in England as were her parents. Jack is white and this brings it's own complications.
What makes this book stand out is that there is no bio of the author with the paperback edition but it may be recalled is that E.R.Braithwaite wrote 'To Sir, With Love' recounting his experiences as a black teacher in an East London school.
In a 'Choice Of Straws' the whole story comes from the point of view of a white boy with such accuracy for the period that the bio of the writer is not important.
Just sad to say that while most of E.R.Braithwaite's books are still reprinted this book does not seem to have been republished after the 1968 paperback edition. So not just forgotten but overlooked as E.R.Braithwaite does not use this book to preach but to let the characters play out a naturally told story.
I found a paperback copy on and is a good book to pick up for it brings the youth of 1965 to life.


Randy Johnson said...

Sounds interesting. I'm adding it to my growing list of books I want to get someday. You know how it is. More books than I have time to get at.(sigh)

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

1965 was the year I was born - I think I'll have to read this one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I adored TO SIR WITH LOVE, but this one is new to me.

Anonymous said...

I actually owned this book. We read it for literature in high school back in the 70s. Even then, I liked it a lot. Sadly, my sister loaned it to one of her friends and I never saw it again. I am now looking for another hc copy.