RARA-AVIS: Kersh: Night and the City

From: Karin Montin ( kmontin@sympatico.ca)
Date: 17 Mar 2007

I read Night and the City this month and wanted to say it is well worth it. Thanks to those of you who have been plugging it over the years.

Written in 1938, it tells the story of small-time London crook, big-time pretender Harry Fabian, who claims to be an American songwriter while it's not even certain if he's ever even been to the States. People call him a pimp; he doesn't do anything to help ZoŽ†¶ind customers, but merely takes the bulk of her earnings. He wants to make big money and decides that promoting wrestling is the way to do it. The problem is that he needs to raise a stake that his partner will match. Part of the story is how he and his partner each go about rustling up a hundred pounds in a week.

Two of the other main characters are a struggling young sculptor and an unemployed secretary who work in a "bottle-club" for commissions and tips. To begin with, both are idealistic about what they will and won't do for money and where they want to go in life. By the end, of course, things have changed.

There is lots of criminal activity of a fairly petty nature and physical action in the wrestling ring. The descriptions of people and places are fabulous, the language rings true.

My edition was published by ibooks. It includes a glossary of slang with eighteen kind of random entries (FANNY: Short for 'Sweet Fanny Adams,' which means 'A lot of baloney'), a brief note on Cockney rhyming slang ("Rhyming slang isn't criminal slang. It is used mostly by fruit salesmen, and then it sounds like a remote African dialect, uttered with innumerable glottal stops, at high speed; and clipped, at that.") and an anlysis by Paul Duncan called Gerald Kersh: A Many of Many Skins. Intriguingly, it says, "an article [he wrote] in Esquire caused questions to be asked in the Canadian parliament and he never wrote for Esquire again."


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