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Fowlers End

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In the darkestm furthest corner of London is a bustling, squalid, ramshackle community built on deceit and Fowlers End..To this wildly debased neighbourhood comes Daniel Laverock, a strong, proud, awesomely ugly man in search of employment. Thanks to his horrifying physiognomy, which conceals the softest of hearts, he wins a job as manager of a movie house. It is a flea pit, a vile retreat for predatory children, a place where thugs relax between felonies. Its owner, Sam Yudenow, is a sort of philosopher. At first Laverock is dazzled by Sam, by his splendidly garbled speech, his flawless depravity, his complete emancipation from decent instincts. But not for long. Soon he is leading a group seeking to overthrow the vicious tyrant. Fowlers End is a black comic masterpiece filled with exuberant language and outrageous characters.


First published January 1, 1957

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About the author

Gerald Kersh

115 books55 followers
Gerald Kersh was born in Teddington-on-Thames, near London, and, like so many writers, quit school to take on a series of jobs -- salesman, baker, fish-and-chips cook, nightclub bouncer, freelance newspaper reporter and at the same time was writing his first two novels.

In 1937, his third published novel, Night and the City, hurled him into the front ranks of young British writers. Twenty novels later Kersh created his personal masterpiece, Fowler's End, regarded by many as one of the outstanding novels of the century. He also, throughout his long career, wrote more than 400 short stories and over 1,000 articles.

Once a professional wrestler, Kersh also fought with the Coldstream Guards in World War II. His account of infantry training They Die With Their Boots Clean (1941), became an instant best-seller during that war.

After traveling over much of the world, he became an American citizen, living quietly in Cragsmoor, in a remote section of the Shawangunk Mountains in New York State. He died in Kingston, NY, in 1968.

(Biography compiled from "Nightmares & Damnations" and Fantastic Fiction.)

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Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,142 followers
May 23, 2023
Second read, still absolutely hilarious. I had forgotten what a hero Copper is, and every line of dialogue is evil joy.

"Son, you 'ave aroused the public imagination. The public says, 'What the f--- is this?'"

"Well, they got the cuffs on this O'Toole an' took 'im away, but before 'e went 'e said, 'I'm coming back to murder you, you old bastard, and I'll burn your effing show down to the effing ground; eff me if I don't, you old effer!' And confidentially between us, there was something about that fellow I didn't like."

That'll put a stop to all this so-called sexual intercourse.


That was genuinely hilarious. I was laughing out loud all the way through and highlighting so many quotes my ereader crashed.

A 1957 novel set in the 30s in an arse-end bit of London. Our narrator is a hopeless berk who gets a job in the grotesque Sam Yudenow's cinema as a chucker-out, and nonsense ensures. The plot is paper-thin but not the point: we're here for human absurdity turned up to 11, ridiculously good funny lines, and some truly baroque swearing. Everyone is appalling (I dare say you could find it offensive if you took it seriously, but that would be a weird thing to do) and the whole thing is like Dickens on meth. I genuinely don't know how this isn't cited in every Top Comic Novels of the 20th Century list or why I'd never heard of it before.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,212 reviews265 followers
February 12, 2016
Fowlers End is in London's outer suburbia and is quite possibly one of the most hellish places imaginable (geographically in the Edmonton/Ponders End area): a steel tube factory, a glass factory, the smokiest railway terminal in London, and a hideous chemical plant. It is in Fowlers End that Sam Yudenow, the proprietor of the Pantheon cinema, employs Daniel Laverock who, despite a ferocious appearance, is an educated middle class family failure, to manage the place.

The story is told from Daniel Laverock's point of view. That said, there really isn't much of a story and the book is filled with dialogue, particularly from the memorable Sam Yudenow, whose mangled cockney yiddish is peppered with eclectic cliches, aphorisms, sayings etc. that have to be read to be believed. The extent to which you might enjoy this book will depend upon your tolerance for pages of this stuff. I thought it was amusing and readable.

There are numerous other colourful and distinctive characters that populate the tale: Copper Baldwin (another Cinema employee), Godbolt (Yudenow’s business rival and nemesis), June Whistler (Laverock’s girlfriend), the Greek brother and sister, Costas and Kyra, who run Yudenow’s cafe, and many more. All of them are idiosyncratic, well drawn, and funny.

This is the second book I have read by Gerald Kersh (the first was "The Angel and The Cuckoo") and I enjoyed both. Both books extensively feature London and, in both, Kersh evokes a version of the city that I recognise. A London of ordinary people trying to survive in a harsh environment.

Set in the 1930s, and published in 1958, I'd say if you like books about London, particularly those set in the interwar period about ordinary working people, then this is well worth a read.
Profile Image for Aamil Syed.
161 reviews36 followers
May 11, 2014
I took this book up on a whim and I'm really glad that I did. This is my first Gerald Kersh book and I can safely say that it won't be my last. After a few pages of struggle to get used to the Cockneye slang and the manner of speaking of the natives of Fowler's End, this book was a good roller coaster ride; some introspection interspersed with the antics of some really weird characters that bring a lot of color to the story and add that dash of British humor that the I so like.

The story is about Daniel Laverock (also the narrator) and his many adventures in Fowlers End, a shabby and god forsaken neighborhood of London. Daniel is not a bad sort, but after having many misfortunes and after blowing all of his savings in a bad business decision, he lands up in Fowlers End, looking to avoid the hollow pity of his relatives, the unsolicited advice of his uncle Hugh and the incessant badgering of his mother.

He gets a job as the manager of a cinema owned by Sam Yudenow, Jewish entrepreneur and by far, the most hilarious and quirky character in the story. When I first came across him in the book, I was instantly reminded of Danny DeVito from the 1996 movie Matilda and for the rest of the book, I just pictured him when Sam came up and read all his dialogues in his voice. It was just superb!

Coming to the characters, this is a motley group that I came to love for their traits. Sam Yudenow has nothing but contempt for everyone else in Fowlers End (and perhaps even those outside of it; basically just about the whole world) and even though he doesn't mince his words, he's careful not to challenge them. Despite being a misanthrope, he's a shrewd businessman and sweet talker who you wouldn't want to stop.

Daniel's only other acquaintance in Fowlers End is Copper Baldwin, a small time mechanic and full-time crook who has acid on his tongue for Sam (who also happens to be his employer) and wishes the worst for him. But, he is kind to Daniel because he feels that he is his equal (or almost equal) in intellect and loves to have metaphysical debates with him, that Daniel almost always ends up winning.

Daniel has a little fling with a girl named June Whistler, who is someone who will save your soul, but smother you with her love after that. A typical overly-attached girlfriend who has some really violent fantasies (that good boy Daniel tries his best to resist).

Daniel's mom is a sweet old lady who is torn between her brother, Hugh, on whom she depends for her subsistence and her son Daniel, whom she loves dearly. She has an uncanny knack for having premonitions about Daniel that drive him crazy (and makes their interactions so much more entertaining). Her confusion in her old age makes her quite real, as a senile elder.

This novel has everything, a deeply moving coming-of-age story, a terrorist plot (yes!), a love story gone wrong and the scourge of society all descending together into its pages. All this is neatly wrapped in quintessential British wit and sardonic humor sprinkled with the existential dilemma of Daniel's self-doubt and struggles that lend a depth to the story and make you look forward to it.

This is a tale that you must definitely read. If not for all the funny confusion, then definitely for Sam's acerbic wit and generous insults, Copper's disgusting anecdotes and Daniel's melancholy observations; some of which I've collected as quotes from this book.

Bonus: Watch Rock'n'Rolla, a brilliant darkly comic film based on a similar theme. Gerard Butler, Tom Hardy, Thandie Newton and Idris Elba; 'nuff said.

Twenty-third book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge | Read on my blog
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,183 followers
September 27, 2009
A great twentieth century writer and this is probably his best. Why he is out of favour is beyond me. Anthony Burgess said Fowler's End was "One of the best comic novels of the century, with Sam Yudenow as superb a creation (almost) as Falstaff."

The novel opens with Yudenow:

Snoring for air while he sipped and gulped at himself, talking between hastily swallowed mouthfuls of himself, fidgeting with a little blue bottle and a red rubber nose-dropper, Mr Yudenow said to me -

Well, if you want to find out what, you can read the book.
Profile Image for Rose-Ellen.
48 reviews
September 1, 2016
I had never heard of our encountered the author Gerald Kersh or any of his works. So, how did I come to choose this (obscure) book to read? Kersh was one of the authors featured in “Invisible Ink: How 100 Great Authors Disappeared” by Christopher Fowler. I enjoy the eccentric elderly characters in Fowler’s Bryant & May series, and his description of Kersh’s writing intrigued me enough to add it to my “Want to Read” list in GoodReads.

"Fowlers End" was published in 1957, and the action takes place in the most run-down part of London, in 1929.

The novel is a First-Person account of Daniel Laverock. He gets a job as the manager of a (silent) movie theatre owned by a colorful shyster named Sam Yudenow. His conversations are written in dialect, but you wouldn’t have much trouble making it out – plus there’s a 5-page section near the beginning, to translate the Cockney slang, which is often vulgar. I don’t think Yudenow ever calls Laverock the same name twice. Yudenow’s arch rival is Mr. Godbolt, and he is always scheming against him, colorfully.

Yudenow opens a café to sell refreshments to his movie customers, and he invents the “Greenburger” – I won’t tell you what’s in it, you have to read the book to find out.

An organization called A.A.A.A. (Anglo-American Automobile Association) is buying land around a nearby village. Laverock and his coworker Copper Baldwin save and borrow money to buy a business in that village. I leave it for you to discover what Yudenow’s reaction is when he finds out.

Much of the action is centered on tricksters, mistaken identity, and extraordinary efforts to avoid traps set by rivals.

The rumored arrival of “talkies” brings speculation, and forces decisions that could make or break a theater.

The blurb on the back cover “reveals” that Laverock and Cooper Baldwin coop up a scheme to punish Yudenow when their boss’s schemes go too far. In the end, Cooper Baldwin dubiously arranges their escape.

Thanks to Christopher Fowler’s recommendation – this book did not disappoint.
Profile Image for Chris.
383 reviews26 followers
July 29, 2009
A strange, smart, fun and overly-long book. While not among Kersh's best, it still radiates real human heat and light, it still sparkles with keen wit and detail. While definitely from Kersh's later period (1957), Fowler's End seems to be in the transition period - before he went into stranger and more speculative territory, yet long after he ever had a chance to be a major literary star with his realistic war novels (which were great). His obscurity is because his subject matter is gritty, robust and relentlessly human, cynical but not pessimistic, with an appreciation for the grimy, shifty, grasping spirit of man - and this type of fiction is perennialy out of fashion.
I am slowly finding more and more Kersh to read, and my appreciation and understanding of both his real observational and literary genius grows.
However, Fowler's End is for Kersh completists only, and the gritty, ethnic, slummy, grimy, conniving, chancing, shifty, subject matter is better explored in The Thousand Deaths of Mr. Small(1951), where Kersh's earlier character Solly Schwartz seems to greatly inform the ridiculously entertaining Sam Yudenow (both cockney/yiddish Dickensian grotesqueries). There were many great passages and moments of truly great inventiveness (and to think, hardly anybody has ever or will ever appreciate them), but the book is still a bit bloated and could have been sharpened and boiled down to a more precise, muscular and visceral experience.
So, a bit long, but the keen eye and masterful mind of Gerald Kersh remains intact.

11 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2008
A young friend who worked for Simon & Schuster (we were all young in those days) gave me an advance copy of this book and urged me to read it. I've been recommending it (and rereading it) ever since.
Profile Image for Slagle Rock.
210 reviews
November 10, 2019
Highly entertaining read about the down-and-out/lunatic crowd of London’s lowest outskirt during the feel-good, happy times we now call the 1930s.
This was the first title I’ve read by Gerald Kersh but it won’t be the last. As other reviews here have suggested, the plot, in a conventional sense, is rather thin. Our hero Daniel Laverock is a daft young gentleman who takes a job managing a rough and tumble, skid row theater. His employer is a capitalistic schemer. The theater’s fix-it man is a tough talking cockney who befriends Laverock and plots with him how they might outsmart and otherwise take down their greedy boss.
Outside of Fowlers End dwell the manager’s girlfriend, probably best described as a real piece of work; his doting, semi-psychic mum who only wants what best for her boy; and a rich uncle, who is always willing to help with a couple pounds and laugh, magnanimously, at our hero’s foibles.
Laverock is a hard one to figure out. He’s apparently pretty handy with his fists, accident prone, foolhardy, streetwise and life-stupid all at once. Oh, and he’s got a good heart.
There are a lot of colorful expressions and onomatopoeia to chew on for readers who like that sort of thing. I do and found good humor in that respect. Really, the joy of reading this book was in the reading. The language was rich, the ideas and philosophical odds-and-ends flowed freely. I don’t often say it but I really hated to see this book draw to an end.
Profile Image for Andy Weston.
2,431 reviews147 followers
May 14, 2018
Kersh’s novel is set in Fowlers End, an outer suburb of London's in the 1920s, and is typically suffering in the Depression, it’s steel tube factory, glass factory, the smokiest railway terminal in London, and a grim chemical plant. Sam Yudenow, the proprietor of the Pantheon cinema, employs Daniel Laverock who, despite an imposing appearance, is an educated middle man on hard times, to manage the place. There is a host of other colourful and distinctive characters that all play their part, but this is not a plot driven story. Amidst the difficult and at times appalling conditions this is a story of London between the wars and the key role that humour plays. It isn’t often that ‘laugh out loud’ humour, but dry and under-stated. Whilst I appreciate the book’s significance, and it’s accuracy in portraying the city and its characters, it wasn’t always for me, and perhaps better appreciated by Londoners themselves.
Profile Image for CQM.
212 reviews27 followers
May 5, 2016
Best. Book. Ever.

I am, I admit, occasionally prone to hyperbole, nonetheless Fowlers End is an unjustly ignored masterpiece in my opinion.
Not much in the way of story. We have a young "homely" faced man, I quote.

"Perhaps you remember the old heavyweight boxer, the Chopping Block, George Cook of Australia. It was almost impossible to knock him out; consciousness and unconsciousness were all the same to him. He used to be one of the barriers that had to be passed before anyone got to be a runner-up for the British Heavyweight Championship. His sad, bewildered eyes glittered under heavy banks of scar tissue, and he had ears like a double portion of sweetbreads. Hundreds and hundreds of promising young heavyweights had hit him in the face with all their might. An old sportswriter told me once that George Cook must have taken, in the course of his career, at least fifteen thousand punches on the nose, which was not only flat and boneless but bent east and west in a lazy zigzag. He had the appearance of a man who, by supernatural toughness, has emerged alive from a concrete mixer. I looked something like him..."

This man, Daniel Laverock, due to circumstances I won't relate here, ends up working as the manager of a cinema in North London around the time that the talkies are beginning to take hold. His boss is the unforgettable Sam Yudenow. Sam mangles English like no other. It's a beautiful thing to behold. Also along for the ride are Copper Baldwin, Johnny Headlong, June Puddingbury Whistler and Jack Cruikback.
There are countless adventures. The greenburger will live long in the memory along with the Greek bombers, the chamber pot, the land fraud and the huge closing punch up.

It's without doubt the funniest book I've ever read. I'd go so far as to say I wish I could forget it completely just so I could have the joy of discovering it again.
I'll leave you with one of Sam Yudenow's typical speeches as he describes witnessing a film called Sinners Beware.

"Oh it's marvellous, it's terrible, it's breath-taking! Draft me some streamers, double crowns,eight sheets, twelve sheets, twenty-four sheets, forty-eight sheets. Never since the Covered Wagon 'ave I wished there was such a thing as a ninety-six sheet! Sinners Beware! It's clean as a whistle, but we play up the sex angle, get it? It's scientific. It's German. Lavendrock, tell me like a father - 'ave you been drinking tea out of a cup lately?"
"Well, what am I supposed to drink tea out of? A jam-jar?"
"Did I say that?" asked Sam Yudenow. "At home it's different. I got a set from Hacker the Breaker, miv scalloped cups. Tea we drink, in my house, not gob.... But this picture: it's unfantic, it's gryadammatic, it's credible, it's unbelievable! You go into a tea-shop, so you say, miv a mysterious smile: 'Tea and a Bath bun.' And very nice too. But believe me-I'm telling you for your own good-in the wim o' this cup is a chip, and in your lip there is a crack, so magnified objects come out. Result, geneval paralysis.... There was also a sequence. In a park a bloody policeman kisses-miv a moustache yet-a nurse-maid miv a pram. Nurse-maid kisses contents of pram. Result? The baby's face falls off. It's marvellous!"
3 reviews
April 24, 2016
A great comic novel set in London's East end- I've no idea why it's fallen so out of fashion and out of print. I only lend my copy when I'm 100% certain it will be lovingly returned.
Profile Image for Frank Farrell.
100 reviews15 followers
March 2, 2020
Gerald Kersh has been largely forgotten now, but was popular and prolific in his lifetime. I discovered him via The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction (I have a project: I am reading one book by every author in the collection).

I really enjoyed the comic tale of this motley crew.

As with one of the other Goodreads reviewers, I was reminded of A Confederacy of Dunces when reading it. If you enjoyed one you will probably enjoy the other.

The character Sam Yudenow was simply remarkable. The back of the book describes him as, 'an incorrigible swindler and one of the greatest comic grotesques in English literature'. I agree.

He is the owner of a cinema in Fowler's End, the very worst part of london at the height of The Greta Depression.

He employs young, peniless Danile Laverock as his manager.

My favourite 'Yudenowism', oft repeated in the story is his advice for dealing with any troublemaker: '..the left arm in the thvoat, the right 'and in the arse of the trousers, and 'Good day to you!'
Profile Image for Andy Ravenscroft.
Author 2 books1 follower
November 15, 2019
This is a love or hate book. You'll either love the comic depictions of seedy London lives or you'll hate them. You'll either love the phonetically rendered dialogue or you'll hate it. You'll either love the wandering story arc, or you'll hate it. There isn't a middle ground.

The bottom line is that you'll probably never read a more lovingly rendered portrait of the arse-end of London. The only book that comes close to resembling it is The Confederacy of Dunces, partly for the way it delivers a tragi-comic rendering of ordinary lives, and partly for how it evokes a sense of place and time through the way the characters speak and think. It's an odd comparison in a way because they're set in very different cities, but if you've read Confederacy of Dunces and enjoyed it, I think you'll get a similar feeling from Fowler's End.

There are many books set in London, but few conjure up as unique a world as this one.
Profile Image for Bradley.
107 reviews2 followers
July 15, 2017
I enjoyed passages (some very amusing ) but was constantly losing my way throughout the book with its bloated paragraphs of speech and mid 20th Londoner accent mimicking. At times the book moves into the past and the present without properly establishing the time period. I found it hard to understand the overall plot/point in the end. Maybe there wasnt one. *shrugs*

I like Kersh's short stories quite a lot more.
Profile Image for Guy Salvidge.
Author 14 books36 followers
April 1, 2018
Don't come to Kersh looking for a plot. You won't find one. What you'll find instead is a meandering, dilatory, sometimes dribbling and often hilarious slice of gutter life in London in the 1930s. All his books are much the same. I've read four of them and I don't see why I ought not to read more.
Profile Image for Tom Calvard.
163 reviews3 followers
April 11, 2019
Very funny, poignant little oddity of a book, with flashes of genius. Dated and not to everyone's taste I'm sure, but a cockney 20th century classic. Kersh is very under-rated. Maybe all his novels don't hit the high notes, but Fowler's End is memorable and entertaining.
Profile Image for Martyn.
63 reviews
June 13, 2019
Really enjoyed the Jules Dassin film based on Kersh’s Night and the City, but this—my first Kersh novel—wasn’t great. I wish it was more evocative of 1930s London. The rambling comedic passages got draining after a while, too.
Profile Image for John Higgins.
15 reviews2 followers
May 10, 2018
This might be my favourite book. It is an incredible feat of writing and Gerald Kersh is a man whose fingertips are full of fireworks. This book explodes of the page, stinking of humanity.
118 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2023
DNF. Might have been the language, but I just couldn't get into it.
Profile Image for Gert-Jan Kramer.
15 reviews
February 6, 2015
British humour at its irreverent best, with more than a touch of the burlesque and a slice of the seamy side of life in a run-down area of London during the Great Depression. Thank Gawd for Sam Yudenow, owner of the Pantheon, who keeps the poor scum of Fowlers End entertained with his silent cinema, and readers with his oft-hilarious ramblings about how to keep his "show biz empire" up and running.

At times it did feel a bit too silly for its own good, but an enjoyable read that kept me smiling all the way through.
467 reviews3 followers
May 27, 2016
Surprised I hadn't come across this writer before - saw a Simon Raven recommendation. Book a bit patchy and over reliant on heavily accented dialogue - which as in Confederacy of Dunces, I don't find particularly comic. However, it met my delight in the portrayal of the demi-monde
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