(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Rugby player for a team called The City, Arthur Machin gets hit in a scrum and loses six teeth. He is taken to a dentist to have his teeth fixed. He is given anesthesia and passes out. While unconscious, he recalls a time before he entered the ranks of professional rugby.

As a novice seeking a position, Machin convinces a man named Johnson to give him a tryout with a professional team. Machin has been living with a Mrs. Hammond since leaving his parents. Mrs. Hammond charges less rent than other landladies, the prime reason he had chosen to live with her. She has two children, is a widow, and is emotionally distant. When Machin tells Mrs. Hammond about his trial, she does not care. She tells Machin that her deceased husband meant everything to her; she still keeps his boots next to the hearth and regularly polishes them.

Machin learns he will be signed with the team but must negotiate a fee for himself. Advised by his teammate Maurice to ask for five hundred pounds plus bonuses, Machin waits nervously in a bar to hear from Weaver and the rest of the committee. Ed Philips, a journalist for the City Guardian, tells Machin not to take his situation too seriously, insisting rugby is only a game. Machin is signed at the salary he wanted.

Weaver drives Machin home in his Bentley and tells him about Mrs. Hammond’s husband dying at Weaver’s factory. While Mr. Hammond was working on a lathe, a file pierced his abdomen, killing him. Mrs. Hammond did not receive any compensation, because the death was ruled a suicide.

Machin tells Mrs. Hammond about the money and discusses how Weaver talked about her husband. Trying to sleep, he hears her crying downstairs. A little later, she comes to his door and asks if he will leave. He says he will stay.

In the narrative present, Machin comes out of anesthesia in the dentist’s office. He is taken in Weaver’s car to Weaver’s Christmas party. Groggy from the anesthesia, Machin tries to find a place to sleep it off and returns to his unconscious reminiscences.

In the past again, Machin buys a Jaguar. Mrs. Weaver refuses to sit in it for five weeks because the money came from Weaver. When they do get in the car, people in the neighborhood watch them. Machin drives Hammond and her children, Lynda and Ian, to Markham Abbey and Howton’s Hall for dinner.

At home, while Mrs. Hammond is making his bed, Machin makes a pass at her, but Mrs. Hammond fights him off. Hammond leaves to continue cleaning, but later Machin and Mrs. Hammond begin an affair. Mr. Hammond’s boots disappear from the hearth.

Later, Machin visits his parents, who reprimand him for losing his...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)