Sarah's Reviews > The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
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Nov 09, 11

Read in November, 2011

The publishers sure have missed a marketing trick on this book - it should be subtitled 'for fans of Mad Men' or some such - the parallels are so marked. Even the names of the two characters, Tom and Betsy, are spookily like Don and Betty - or maybe not so spookily; apparently Mr Draper is reading a copy in one episode of the (brilliant) TV show. Anyway, this is the original if you like - written at the time, rather than the retrospectively - and a fascinating insight into the mores and angst of the postwar era.

It has ‘flaws’: it's dated; the world of writing and rewriting speeches seems quaint and remote 50-Powerpoint-years later; Betsy's not a particularly rounded character and is unconvincingly forgiving; the end is too easy and neat. Yet it's more than a mere work of historic interest; with it's portrayal of angst over work/life balance and how much you should subjugate your own personality at work, and its insights into the internal conflicts experienced post war by the average Jo, it has resonance for today too. The pace is good, the structure tight, the style accessible and I devoured it in a few days.

Just one tip: if you’re reading the edition with Jonathan Frantzen’s introduction in it, leave it until after you’ve finished – it’s full of spoilers and will (to my mind wrongly) lower your expectations of the second half. Certainly it would be better placed as an Afterward in terms of flow. But it’s the novel I’m grading here, not the format or Frantzen, and whilst the book has defects, I’m going for 5*s all the same. My reasons? I don’t think it’s something anyone would regret picking up and couldn’t learn from reading, and its appeal will be broad. In short, it’s an American literary treasure, well worth rediscovering all these years on.
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