In praise of Arthur Hailey

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There is a certain type of novel which pulls you into a marvelous ecosystem and leaves you wondering at the bustling enterprise and unquenchable spirit of the men and women running this mini-world. Arthur Hailey is probably the creator and undoubted Master of this genre. He had spent a lifetime meticulously chronicling the great advancements in old industries and new ones in the latter half of the twentieth century. Each of these varied sectors (hotel management in Hotel, aviation in Airport, banking in Moneychangers to name a few) play such crucial roles in modern life that we can’t conceive life without them; Hailey brings forth their wonders, secrets, achievements and fallacies in unparalleled style.

Arthur Hailey was born in Luton in 1920 to a coal- mining family. He served in the Royal Air Force in World War Two post-which he emigrated to Canada. He spent several years in Canada/USA to avoid the draconian tax laws of a socialist UK government. He finally moved to Lyford Cay, an exclusive community of the ultra-rich like Sean Connery, in the Bahamas. However all his books have an American setting. With over 200 million copies of his eleven books sold, Hailey is a publishing phenomenon who enjoys a roaring popularity with his readers.

One of the endearing qualities of Hailey’s books is their remarkable “up-to-date” quality. It is difficult to remember that he is a Second World War air veteran.  He focused on one industry per book and painstakingly researched on that industry for two years before writing the novel. Granted, his last book was in 1997 (Detective: follows the Miami P.D. as it tracks down a serial killer and extracts a startling confession from him), but the fundamental functioning of these modern-systems is largely unchanged, the main advances being in computerization and digitization of records.

His works have a great consistency throughout, from Final Diagnosis (1959) to Detective (1997), which shows his modern outlook and futuristic thinking. He was truly ahead of his times. It can be said that he wrote of the Seventies before they arrived.

His depiction of power struggles, friendships, jealousies, internal conflicts and adultery among diverse men and women closely working together indicates a deep knowledge of the human condition. It is this display of the internal workings of the human mind that keeps the pages turning. His characters are often dismissed by critics as “wooden” or mere ciphers. However, I believe Hailey strives to portray each character as a representation of his cultural background, job position, geographic location etc. For example, he beautifully shows the angst and abject poverty of poor blacks in Detroit through one African-American character in Wheels. In such cases further burdening characters with personality quirks would be cumbersome and distracting. In this treatment the essential humanity of the characters is far from lost, as evidenced by the engaging stories.

His characters are common people doing ordinary jobs. They are not mysterious vampires or superheroes. They are only ordinary humans working in cohesion to create and maintain great Systems which are the epitome of modern human endeavour.

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