Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2003).
The ostensible narrator of this comedy of manners is Ted Wallace, a foul-mouthed, lecherous failed poet who has just been sacked from his job as a drama critic. (The rather obscure title derives from a poem of that name by T.S. Eliot.) The story centres on allegedly miraculous goings-on at a country house in Suffolk which is owned by Ted's old friend Lord Logan. Ted is commissioned to go to Suffolk to investigate things by his god-daughter Jane, who is Lord Logan's niece and who thinks she has been cured of her leukaemia by Lord Logan's younger son David. Although not a believer, Ted agrees to go, since he has nothing to lose and there is plenty of free booze on offer. Much of the book is composed of his reports to Jane.
The language is earthy and the narrative mostly proceeds at a good pace. At certain points, however, the focus shifts and we get third-person accounts of David's actions. Presumably we are intended to suppose that these are written by Ted retrospectively, but this is not made clear and in these sections we seem to hear the author speaking rather than Ted; I thought the narrative convention became excessively strained here. There is also a lengthy section describing Lord Logan's family background in Czechoslovakia and this I found unnecessarily lengthy and distracting; it might have been better omitted or at least summarized briefly. Still, the book is generally entertaining and would while away a plane or train journey agreeably enough, though the claim on the cover, reprinted from a review in Publishers Weekly, that it is funnier than either Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis is certainly exaggerated.
17 November 2003
%T The Hippopotamus
%A Fry, Stephen
%I Arrow Books
%G ISBN 0-09-918961-5
%P xii + 356 pp
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