Michael Cullen has to grow up without a father. Already as a young boy he decides to have a better life. Since he always liked reading and as he can show good manners, he is not one to work in a factory and soon he gets his chances in a real estate office. But when he betrays his boss and his girlfriend gets pregnant, he flees his Nottingham working-class background and sets out for London and a better future. On his way, he meets Bill with whom he will be linked over the next years when Michael has times of ups and downs, gets better jobs and worse ones. Since he has nothing to lose, he is not too concerned about other people or his own fate. He is still young, just about to start in life.
Sillitoe’s novel is not a typical coming-of-age novel since Michael is too old for that, but nevertheless I’d classify it as one. The young man not knowing exactly where belongs too – especially since he never got to know his father – only sure of the fact that there must be a better life waiting for him. Blessed with intelligence and charm, he can make use of what he was given and manages to escape the most critical situations. At the same time, it’s a novel of escaping or leaving behind the working-class. Michael is not proud of his background, he despises the working-class and never fits in when he has to do jobs like them. One could feel sympathy for him, for his ambition and the hard work he is ready to do – but Michael Cullen is just a bastard, too reckless and egoistic to be loved by the reader and that he falls into the traps he set up himself, leaves you with a bit of schadenfreude.