Jael 97's good looks have been deemed a cause of discontent among other women, and she finds herself reporting to the Ministry of Facial Justice, where her face will be reconstructed to become 'beta' (second-grade). For she lives in a post-apocalyptic world, where society is based on a collective sense of guilt, where all citizens are labelled 'delinquents' and obliged to wear sackcloth and ashes. Individuality and privilege, which might arouse envy, are stamped out.
But Jael refuses to fit in. Forced to become 'beta', and thus exempt from envy, her self-respect and rebellious spirit cannot be suppressed so easily. Slowly, she begins the struggle to reassert the rights of the individual.
L. P. Hartley's dystopian classic is a darkly entertaining vision of human weakness, envy and governmental interference taken to their most chilling extremes.
Alec is a best-selling novelist. He soon finds Harold's knowledge of income tax allowances useful and when Alec pays a visit to the accountant his wife, Isabel, who yearns for culture and literature, quickly takes up the fantasy to be his mistress. However, not she but Irma, the Austrian barmaid at the tavern, has caught Alec's wayward fancy . . .
Her mental and spiritual struggles persist and gather momentum through all the disasters of her married life. Its outcome is the climax to a story that must surely rank as one of the most impressive L. P. Hartley has given us.
Forced by circumstances to look back on these days, Richard finds himself recounting this episode to his secretary. Its shattering significance throughout the rest of his life is put into remarkable perspective by the unusual framework with which Hartley has enclosed his story.
Weaving skilfully through past events while staying awake to the present, The Brickfield is a masterly evocation of childhood and its influences on the adult mind.
The consequences of this rash disclosure range from threats and blackmail to the entirely unpredictable reactions of Richard's friends.