Arthur Machin is a big, rugged rugby player who wins a tryout with a professional team, called “The City,” of a grimy Northern England industrial town, population 100,000. He plays well and brutally enough to win a sign-up bonus of five hundred pounds from the committee of industrialists, dominated by Mr. Weaver, who run the team. This money, as well as subsequent bonuses, enables him to buy first a llumber and then a Jaguar, to dress expensively, to dine in upper-class restaurants, and to buy his widowed landlady, Mrs. Valerie Hammond, not only a television set but also a fur coat.
About a decade older than Arthur, Mrs. Hammond grimly and primly mourns the death of her husband, who was killed in Mr. Weaver’s factory in an industrial accident that very likely was his fault. Mrs. Hammond—Arthur, the first-person narrator, usually calls her that, hardly ever “Valerie”—regards her lodger as an intruder who threatens the repose of her insistent grief for her husband. Nevertheless, they are having an affair.
The tortured, destructive relationship between this unlikely couple becomes the central story of the novel. Arthur is not only physically strong but also emotionally relentless, resolved to batter down her reluctance to open her feelings to him. He insists on doubling the modest rent she charges him, rains gifts on her, and takes her and her two children for rides in his luxurious car. She remains the grudging recipient of his...
(The entire section is 491 words.)