Rediscovered Classic: Towards The End of The Morning

Posted on 28th April 2016 by Peter Whitehead
Michael Frayn's skewering of the press remains as relevant as ever.

The recent demise of The Independent’s print edition highlights the perils of the real-world press in the face of the internet. In terms of distribution and decreasing revenues, online has indeed changed the game, but strangely the story behind those written words (the people, the aspirations, the despairs, the deadlines, the sheer overriding comic tragedy of it all) has changed incredibly little.

The truth that Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning still drips with relevance goes some way to prove this. Written in 1967, aside from the mechanics of the press and Fleet Street as an institution, much is familiar. Journalistic concerns are largely petty, where vague resentments and half-baked dreams flesh out the onward slog of providing copy for an (always anonymous) newspaper’s lesser-trod pages. Our quasi-hero at the centre of it all is sympathetic bore John Dyson, editor to a team of two, responsible for the inclusion of the crossword and other weightless ephemera.

Frayn’s hilariously fine wit expertly dismantles Dyson’s pretensions to fame (television) and over the book’s pages, little else remains unskewered by the author’s genius for social analysis; much that was relevant to the late sixties continues to carry an eerily similar weight, even today. Despite Frayn’s future strengths as a dramatist, here he also wisely allows plot to ride pillion, the real strengths of his writing lying in the sheer beauty of its dialogue. Writing for The Guardian in 2005, Christopher Hitchens summarised the novel as ‘… a cult book among the hacks… It does have more or less everything.’

Towards the End of the Morning was Frayn’s third novel, well-ahead of the Whitbread (now Costa) Award success in 2002 for Spies or indeed his career as playwright that so seemed to remove him from the fiction scene entirely for the eighties.

Faber’s recent reissue of several early Frayn novels (including his first, The Tin Men has provided us with the perfect opportunity to rightfully celebrate one of Britain’s most insightful – and strangely timeless - pieces of comic writing. ‘Still ranks with Evelyn Waugh's Scoop as one of the funniest novels about journalists ever written.' – The Sunday Times


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