Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Wot I'm (not) reading: Comedy flop


It’s a big disappointment when a favourite writer produces a dud. Tom Sharpe, who died in 2013, was a great comic novelist, from his wicked Apartheid-era South African satires through to hilarious caricatures of the British establishment in Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue, both of which made hysterically funny TV series. I only recently discovered that I’d missed Grantchester Grind, a sequel to Porterhouse Blue, and decided to catch up on it.

I wish I hadn’t bothered. The humour here is very dry and barely raised the occasional chuckle. Porterhouse College needs to pay for a new roof to the Chapel and unwisely allows a philanthropic American media mogul to invest. Apart from a set-piece scene where some of the chapel ceiling falls on the congregation, most of the first 150 pages is taken is taken up with dialogue between the conservative College administrators and the deeply philistine American team. Both sides are liberal in the use of the F-word, giving this book the sledge-hammer impact of today's stand-up comedians who think foul language is intrinsically funny.

It is not. I can’t tell you if the following 350 pages get better, because I gave up. I hate to give up on a book, any book, but this one defeated me. Leaden and dull. Maybe Mr Sharpe was just going through a bad patch. After this he wrote several more novels, including another Wilt trilogy (Wilt was not my favourite Sharpe character). But for me Sharpe has joined the ranks of authors I had to stop reading. Iris Murdoch went very tedious in her later books (perhaps because of dementia stalking her), and I lost faith in Anthony Burgess and Gore Vidal, two of my all-time favourites. Lower down the literary food chain I long ago stopped reading Jackie Collins, who was never as good as Harold Robbins. Stephen King still delivers the goods, but Anne Rice, for me, does not.

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