Tim Binding is one of those authors of whom I’ve been aware for a while, and I’ve even got a couple of his books in my TBR piles, but never read any of them. The publicity blurb for his latest published earlier this year, said ‘The Champion pulsates with black humour and wit, and will find appeal amongst fans of Jonathan Coe.‘ Well, I am one of those, so I hoped for a great read – and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Champion is a tale of class war, greed and ambition, and what happens when small town life gets disturbed.
The main characters are two men, and a girl. Charles Pemberton is the product of a posh middle class family. His father is a local bigwig, they have a big house, and Charles went to the top school. His parents always hoped he’d marry someone like Sophie Marchand, but Charles is rather quiet and a bit introverted, and Sophie is a bit of a live wire. Still they can hope. One day a new pupil arrives.
We knew he’d make it, and when he did, we drank to our own success as much as his. He’d done it all in our names, and though we understood he would be leaving, as leave he must, we bathed in the certain knowledge that he’d be carrying something of ourselves with him, just as there would be a trace of himself left behind. Like the scene of any crime.
Clark Rossiter is known as ‘Large’, his family aren’t old money, he’s a working class boy with big ambition and a huge personality. He builds a crew around him, and Charlie is roped in on the outside. Naturally Sophie gravitates to Large, and Charles is left watching. School ends. Large goes off to work in the City. Charles starts to study law, but realises it’s not for him, and he becomes a chartered accountant, much to his father’s disgust, and settles down for a quiet single life.
Some time later, Large returns. He’s made his money in the City. He has plans to revolutionise the Care Home industry, and he’s going to start it in the town of his alma mater, and Charles is to be his accountant. Large, or Clark as he now wishes to be known, has everyone eating from the palm of his hand, his magnetic personality charms them all, but underneath he’s ruthless, and greedy, and wants to get one-up on the middle classes, including all his former friends. Charles, initially gets sucked in by all his bravado, but he realises that sooner or later, Large will fall – and he is not going to be treated like a faithful dog any more.
I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help liking the larger than life Clark either. He was such an elemental force of life in this novel and breathed life into the town. I couldn’t help but picture him as Philip Seymour Hoffman in full charm mode by the way. However, as Sophie was to find, a little of such a personality goes a long way, and he was rather overpowering on full-time exposure. Charles, meanwhile is so repressed, that even while I could feel a lot of sympathy for his mother, who had many trials to overcome in this story, that didn’t transfer to her son. He was set up as the boring, introverted accountant, whose veneer finally cracks and he gets his own back. The roles of hero and villain got flipped between Clark and Charles and you wondered who would come out on top in the end.
Large rather reminded me of Dougal Douglas in Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye, in which a young man arrives in a slightly posh bit of South London, stirs things up rather devilishly bringing this staid bit of town to life, and then disappears. A similar black comedy, but Binding’s style is more expansive than Spark’s sparseness. The Champion is not without sad moments and tragedy which widen the dramatic depth. The entire story is recounted by Charles, who looks back wistfully on this period of his life – one senses that he wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but is rather relieved that it’s over.
If you like contemporary English black comedies, this could be a novel for you. I really enjoyed it and want to read more Tim Binding. (9/10)
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I got my copy through the Amazon Vine programme. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Champion by Tim Binding
The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe
The Ballad of Peckham Rye (Penguin Modern Classics) by Muriel Spark