Michael Cullen is a scoundrel and knows it. As he tells his story, he doesn't attempt to protect his self-image by portraying himself as a wholesome victim of circumstance. He simply does whatever he needs to do when he needs to do it, and is not shy at admitting defeat to us his readers. Yet despite his various failings, like a cat with nine lives, Michael somehow manages to right himself in the end.
This is very much a young man’s story, with a heavy focus on women and finding ways to make an easy buck. His various encounters and reencounters with women are frankly audacious, yet they serve as perfect examples of Michael Cullen’s ability to lie and charm his way into and out of any situation. In this respect, Michael Cullen’s character does make for an interesting subject for study.
As with other traditional picaresque novels, A Start in Life doesn’t have much of a plot and is presented as a meandering series of events that are somehow miraculously tied together. Coincidence also plays an important role here, helping to tie the various stories and characters Michael meets into a more meaningful and convincing whole. Yet, the novel itself is not as thematically strong as Sillitoe’s later Michael Cullen novels, especially the posthumously published Moggerhanger.
Readers new to Alan Sillitoe might prefer his earlier, more famous works, namely Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. However for readers who have sampled this first novel in the Michael Cullen series and were not as impressed by this work, I would suggest trying Moggerhanger. It’s the work of a mature author with a maturer narrator. While this story too meanders, it offers much more interesting themes and ideas for thought and discussion, ultimately taking the picaresque novel into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Copy provided by NetGalley