John Gerard Braine was born to Fred and Katherine Braine, who were lower-middle-class Catholics and therefore part of a distinguishable minority in Yorkshire, England. Braine’s mother had great expectations of her son, which as a student he began to fulfill. Braine’s formal education began at the state-run Thackley Boarding School, where from 1927 to 1933 he was exposed to a predominantly Protestant, working-class atmosphere. After graduating with honors in 1933, he attended St. Bede’s Grammar School in Bradford for five years and then took a variety of jobs. He served as a librarian from 1940 to 1957, work that was interrupted from 1940 to 1943 by his work as a telegrapher in the Royal Navy and from 1951 to 1953 by work as a freelance writer in London. Between 1952 and 1954, he suffered intermittently from tuberculosis. In 1957, after having had his first novel rejected five times and experiencing the death of his mother, his novel Room at the Top was published to great acclaim. After its appearance, he devoted himself to writing and travel.
Critics identified him as one of the most important of the new generation of writers that appeared after World War II and became known as Britain’s Angry Young Men; the group’s approach to life is similar to that of its American counterpart, young postwar writers whose work is sometimes called the Cult of Brutality. In both England and the United States, young writers were expressing their anger at human callousness and cruelty. Braine’s writing is frank and vigorous, and he handles his topics with gusto.
Room at the Top follows the career of a poor but ambitious young man who wishes to rent a room and finally engages one. The room, it turns out, is located in a house on the Top, a hill inhabited by the town’s wealthy and representing a sordid world.
Braine wrote twelve additional novels, which met with varying critical success. He was praised for his smooth and sophisticated style, narrative power, and compassionate insights into human suffering, though there were those who criticized his work for self-conscious hedonism, sentimentality, and ambiguity. His most autobiographical novel, One and Last Love, was commended for its vivid and provoking portrayal of people and places, past memories and present experiences. Throughout his life, Braine was capable of surprising his readers, and he is distinguished by stubborn integrity and craftsmanship.