Published by Penguin Pages: 176
The classic comedy of a 50s youth trapped inside a Walter Mitty fantasy-world, Billy Liar was published in 1959, and captures brilliantly the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small town. It tells the story of Billy Fisher, a Yorkshire teenager unable to stop lying - especially to his three girlfriends. Trapped by his boring job and working-class parents, Billy finds that his only happiness lies in grand plans for his future and fantastical day-dreams of the fictional country Ambrosia.
This book was first published in 1959. It’s a fascinating look at life from the inside of a teenage boy’s head. Set in fictional Stradhoughton, Yorkshire this book shows us a flawed human being. Billy Fisher is full of himself. He’s a liar, a cheat and a thief. He’s seeing three females at once and is engaged to two of them. I didn’t like him. But you don’t have to like a character to enjoy the book. And enjoy it I did. I do have to qualify that comment. I didn’t enjoy it while reading, it was only afterwards that I found I had enjoyed the writing. It was well written I just didn’t enjoy being inside this specific teenage boy’s mind.
Waterhouse sets the scene by showing us the inside of Billy’s mind before he even gets out of bed in the morning. We see how he’s got his mother’s rants timed to the minute and only gets up when she gets to a certain rant. He details how he’s thinking at this time and the other types of thinking he has. This seems irrelevant and throwaway but becomes relevant later as we see it’s Billy’s way of not being present in the moment and ignoring what he should be doing.
The reader is shown how Billy feels he’s on top of the world, how he feels he has everything worked out. Finally we see how there are various things he hasn’t thought about and hasn’t worked through far enough. He’s been given some calendars to post to clients, he keeps the money and the calendars. We see how he comes unstuck. As the reader we get to see through Billy’s own thoughts when he comes unstuck and how these calendars are one part of his downfall.
I feel this book is as relevant today as it was back in 1959. When it was published it showed the world what a small town in Yorkshire could look like, with the accents, the people and the town all showing us a slice of that area of the world. It was made into a movie four years later. I’m going to be trying to watch it at some point.
Googling the author I came across something I didn’t know. It turns out Keith Waterhouse also wrote some of the screen plays for Worzel Gummidge. I loved Worzel Gummidge in my childhood, they were an absolute treasure. And it turns out part of it is because of Waterhouse’s ability to write people as they were and not as we hoped they’d be. That is the real treasure behind Billy Liar. It’s not that Billy is a horrible person but the fact that he’s real. The fact that there are people out there like Billy. They might not have the same accent but they’re out there.
Here’s an affiliate link but only because I recommend reading it.