Thursday, February 5, 2015

Vintage stuff (Published in 1982) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - About a teenage boy

The confusions and shortfalls of public schooling, a headmaster with an unusual approach to learning and a dimwitted teenage boy who carries out each and every thing said to him, in the most literal manner- mix all this together with a journey through England and France and what you get is another explosive read from author Tom Sharpe. Vintage Stuff was published in 1982. One of Tom Sharpe’s last few novels before his death in 2013, the novel is in no way less than any of his prior books.
The story of Vintage Stuff is about a teenage boy by the name of Peregrine Roderick Clyde-Brown. He is not just naïve or dimwitted but also a sort of bumbling savage. While the same thing can be said of many other boys his age, what unfortunately makes him stand far apart from his fellow students is his proclivity towards following through on anything said to him. The most innocently said thing is always taken literally by our protagonist.
Obviously, no school wants anything to do with him, especially when he starts folding foliage when he is told to turn over a new leaf!! But after a lot of cajoling, coaxing and heavy amount of bribing his parents successfully manage to get him admission at Groxbourne. Where the faculty feels that Peregrine’s knack for taking the smallest order literally and not having a single individual thought, will make him a promising candidate for the British Army. At Groxbourne, Peregrine meets the unusual headmaster Gladstone, whose teaching methods include lashing among other things.




What follows is true to Tom Sharpe’s style of writing. Gladstone manages to take Peregrine on a mysterious journey which does start in England, but soon crosses borders into France, and lands up exploding with Peregrine storming a French castle. If that wasn’t enough Peregrine does manage some mischief, mayhem and above all a murder within the French castle.
Tom Sharpe out does himself with this novel, especially by displaying a wonderful command over the English language and allowing the readers to truly enjoy all its nuances and innuendos. A boy who takes every order and command, no matter how innocently said, literally. Together with a headmaster who is just a little beyond extreme, the duo manage to stir up enough trouble which results in car crashes, shootings and chaos.
Though the novel feels a bit dated, it is an enjoyable and entertaining read. As always, one can expect larger than life situations, unrealistic characters and a completely insane plot which creates a fast moving witty book full of twists and unexpected surprises. Do not expect it to make sense, but you can expect a delightful play on words, and typical wry British humor which is showcased beautifully through Peregrine’s actions.
Like all of Tom Sharpe’s other books, this one too, is a quick read which will leave you in splits from the word go. If you have read a Sharpe book before, then you know what you are in for; but if you haven’t, then buckle down for complete anarchy.

Vintage stuff (Published in 1982) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - About a teenage boy

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Midden (Published in 1996) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - Story of Timothy Bright

Published in 1996, The Midden is written by author Tom Sharpe a year after Grantchester Grind. This standalone novel was published after almost 11 years, since Sharpe’s last release. Like most of his books, Sharpe has focused on victimizing the British upper class in this book as well. There isn’t much sense made in the book, but none the less it is guaranteed to amaze the reader, with all the random twists in the plot.
The story begins with Timothy Bright, a stock broker by profession. But unlike his name, Tim is rather dimwitted. Problems arise when Timothy realizes that his wealthy family has cut him off, making him not so rich. Poor Timothy cannot fathom why he has been cut off, or why his friends no longer speak with him. He dreams about make it large financially. But unfortunately for him, he does not possess any real acumen to follow through on his dream.
He starts by gambling hoping to make some money. But when it fails (badly), he takes to embezzling. While such large crimes go unnoticed, it is his lesser known acts of notoriety which land him in deep trouble. Dumb as he is, he gets involved with some heavy-breathing thugs. His tiny act of sniffing a strangely aromatic tobacco leads to him getting drugged. But that isn’t surprising for a Sharpe novel. What is bizarre is how drugged Timothy lands up naked in the bed of Chief Constable (CC), Sir Arnold Gonders, with the CC’s wife! Sir Arnold is shown to be a rotten piece of work.
As bent as they come, Chief Constable, Sir Arnold has gotten away with charges of perjury and bribery. After finding a naked Timothy Bright in bed with his wife, Sir Arnold is not afraid to tackle Timothy by framing him for various crimes. Most of the novel revolves around his attempts to dispose of Timothy while also having to deal with his crazy wife and her eccentric lesbian lover, Auntie Bea!!




Where he successfully manages to bring up false charges against Timothy, he meets his match in his old adversary, Miss Marjorie Midden of Middenhall, which was popularly known as “The Midden”. When he tries to frame Miss Midden in a police raid of Middenhall, things start to go very wrong. Once the raid is conducted on the crazy residents of Middenhall, by the police who for some reason are dressed as sheep, things begin to blow up, literally. What follows is death and cremation of a dozen police officials and residents, when the entire Middenhall gets burnt to the ground.
As always Tom Sharpe is blunt and crass, and not afraid to create a plot which is not only unrealistic but completely outrageous. With slapstick situations and scathing humor Sharpe has proven to his audience that 3 decades on, and he still hasn’t lost his touch. But while the story was enjoyable, one can argue that there isn’t much need for the vulgar, depraved scenes or the abusive language towards the finale, especially considering it does nothing to aid the plot or characters in any way.
But crude language aside, one has to hand it to Sharpe for creating and introducing characters who have no real attributes, other than to keep the reader guessing as to whether said character is going to get his due or outsmart his creator. The book stays slow and steady until the last 100 odd pages, which is when the shit hits the roof! Ardent Sharpe fans will enjoy the book in spite of the set manner in which it is written. But to someone who has just picked up Sharpe, this book might not be the best way to get acquainted with his writings or his characters.

The Midden (Published in 1996) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - Story of Timothy Bright

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Gropes (Published in 2009) - Written by Tom Sharpe - Not as good as some of his others

His second to last book before his death, The Gropes is not one of Tom Sharpe’s best works. Published in 2009, this book is a long way from Sharpe’s easy style of writing where he could effortlessly mash together characters to create insane outcomes. Remembered more for his dangerous mix of women, sexual tension, foreigners, class tension and the powers that be, Sharpe has lost his edge in his later writings, especially this book.
Set in Grope Hall, Northumberland, the ancestral property of a matriarchal family of women who seem to be descendants of a seasick Viking and Ursula, a nun who was said to be so ugly, that rapists and plunderers steered clear of her!! This matriarchal family comprised of women who went out to find themselves husbands. They did so by kidnapping the men and bringing them back to their estate, from where the men couldn’t escape on account of the Spanish fighting bulls guarding the farmlands.
In Grope Hall, the men are bullied and sulk about all day, while the women are strong willed and oversexed! The book follows the crazy life of Vera and Belinda. Vera, who is devoted to romantic novels, lives with her ordinary husband, Horace. But, when Horace stabs their son for being his doppelganger, Vera decides to send her son, Esmond to her brother, Albert. From here on the book begins to spiral out of control.




While Horace manages to escape from the clutches of his wife with the help of a fake passport and tramp steamer headed for Latvia, Esmond is kidnapped and dragged back to Grope Hal by none other than Albert’s wife, Belinda. Bullying aside, it isn’t fun being the Vaseline loving Vera or the Jacuzzi polishing Belinda, who is constantly plotting her husband’s downfall. The only way to establish any semblance of peace or sanity in Grope Hall is if someone attempts to restore the balance between the male and females living there.
Since all the men in Grope Hall believe that silence, fortitude and whisky are their only means of resistance, the mighty task of adjusting the scales is left on the shoulders of poor Esmond, who realizes that all he may need to rectify the situation is steady nerves and good old chauvinism. Like all Sharpe novels, The Gropes also dishes out dark sordid humor through farcical events abundantly.
Unlike the Wilt series and Porterhouse Blue, this book requires many more one-liners to keep the pages turning and the readers interested. While the characters may be unpleasant and the scenes filled with slapstick comedy, the humor in The Gropes feels forced, and the characters somehow feel hollow. Where Sharpe’s characters would seem calm and dignified on the surface only to later reveal a full blown tornado of inner turmoil, which came out because of the circumstances they were forced to face; the characters from this novel lie flat on the pages with no inner conflicts.
With some ridiculously hilarious books under his belt, Sharpe delivered a book which is good, but not absurd to the nth degree. The story builds up only to fizzle out in the end. But like most of his books, it is a short read and keeps the reader focused on the details till the finish. Even though it doesn’t reach a certain “Sharpe” standard the book is an extreme farce with whimsical characters. Not his best work, but none the less the book is definitely a comic, chaotic and wildly amusing read.

The Gropes (Published in 2009) - Written by Tom Sharpe - Not as good as some of his others

Monday, October 13, 2014

Riotous Assembly (Published in 1971) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - Satirical look at South Africa during apartheid

Published in 1971, Riotous Assembly is a novel by Tom Sharpe. A novel which showcases the Apartheid era of South Africa in a satirical and humorous way, Riotous Assembly is about a murder committed by a white woman of her Zulu cook. The murder that has taken place in South Africa at the time of apartheid and the local police who enforce it, is Tom Sharpe’s way of speaking out against the atrocities that were committed at the time. His knowledge on the subject was vast as a result of his staying in South Africa from 1951 until1961.
Tom Sharpe had shifted to South Africa and had worked as a social worker and teacher. The apartheid era inspired him to write 2 novels, and a play, one of the novels being Riotous Assembly. Like every phase of his life, this one too, resulted in the publication of a serious issue in the form of satire and mockery. However, it did not go down well, and he was arrested for sedition, and later deported to London in 1961.
The novel opens in a fictitious town by the name of Piemburg in South Africa. The police chief, Kommandant van Heerden, has risen to his current rank, only because of family connections. His work and merit leave much to be desired. So when this baboon of a Police Chief, who also happens to be pro-apartheid, is told to go an investigate a murder, involving a certain eccentric British lady by the name of Miss Hazlestone, there is bound to be some blow up.




It turns out that Miss Hazlestone has murdered or rather blown to smithereens her Zulu cook with an elephant gun. But since the murder was that of a Zulu and the one committing the crime was a British “white” woman, van Heerden seems it only fair to brush the entire matter under the carpet. However, when Miss Hazlestone divulges the fact that she and her cook were lovers, van Heerden panics. In his endeavors to try and contain the matter, he creates so much confusion that it all blows out of proportion on a nuclear scale.
He attempts to try and control the matter and also stop this news from spreading, by placing the lady, Miss Hazlestone under house arrest, and calls reinforcement to guard her, while he goes to try and make matters “better”. His assistants are stupider than him. When he posts the bloodthirsty but completely senseless Konstable Els as a guard outside Miss Hazlestone’s home with an elephant gun, Els manages to somehow kill over 20 police officers in his over exuberance to guard the house and its secret.
Not sure what to do, Els plants a wallet found nearby at the scene of the crime and then flees. The wallet turns out to be that of Bishop of Barotseland, Miss Hazlestone’s brother. He is then arrested and interrogated in a not so legal way, after which a trial is held and he is sentenced to death by hanging at the ancient gallows for a crime he did not commit.
Not a political novel, and a bit predictable, but yet, as always an entertaining read by Tom Sharpe. The book from the word go, puts light on everything that Sharpe found wrong in Apartheid South Africa. He uses all that and comes up with a story which is hilarious and yet a slap in the face of all racism, savagery, stupidities, juridical perversions and misunderstandings that took place in South Africa.

Riotous Assembly (Published in 1971) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - Satirical look at South Africa during apartheid

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grantchester Grind (Published in 1995) - At a college - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Also known as A Porterhouse Chronicle, Grantchester Grind is a sequel of Porterhouse Blue. Released in 1995, the book is written by Tom Sharpe, who has yet again created a hilariously absurd story, which seems to start out simple and blows out of proportion. Born in 1928, and having completed his education at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Tom Sharpe has a good idea of the workings of such institutions and thus how to create a novel which has a ring of authenticity to it.
This book, like its prequel, is also based in a fictitious college, called Porterhouse, which is shown to be not only one of the best colleges in Cambridge, but also one of the most conservative ones. While the first novel, Porterhouse Blue was a standalone book, this novel has used references from the previous one.
The book opens with a simple plot and mostly the same characters as its predecessor, with a few new entries. Skullion, previously, the Head Porter at the College, is now Master, due to a chain of seriously ridiculous events, which have led to him murdering the previous Master, Sir Godber Evans, accidentally of course! However, Skullion too is frail after a stroke. Knowing he might not last very long, the others start to look for someone to replace him, when the time comes, from among the alumni.




Also, the college is in dire financial straits. The solutions to this problem gradually reveal themselves. First solution (laced with complications) comes in the form of Lady Mary, the widow of Sir Evans. She believes her husband was murdered. Though her beliefs and what the staff at Porterhouse wants to believe are two very different things. When she realizes no one is willing to take her seriously, or else is turning a blind eye to her convictions, she decides to plant an agent of hers in the form of a Fellow, by anonymously sending 6 million pounds to the Sir Godber Evans Memorial Fellowship. Her agent has one task only, to find out who killed her husband.
Even though the book is not a mystery novel, all the characters definitely behave that way, what with their vested interests and half-truths. Another financial messiah comes in the form of Edgar Hartang, the leading head of a big American media company, by the name of Transworld Television Productions. But Hartang, like Lady Mary, has some other plans up his sleeve. He wants to create a front for his money laundering business. And unfortunately for the Porterhouse College, they seem to be his most preferred option.
The team of Transworld Television Productions convinces the college to let them shoot a documentary there. And in their over-zealous excitement they damage a part of the chapel, and Porterhouse, demands they pay for the damages, subsequently upsetting Hartang’s money laundering plans. Eventually, an alcoholic by the name of Lord Jeremy Pimpole is appointed as the Master of Porterhouse.
Like Porterhouse Blue, this book too lives up to its reputation. It is funny, witty and full of misunderstandings, drunken admissions, and sexual ideas. In typical Tom Sharpe style, he creates a plot so simple and characters so ordinary, that when he takes them and twists them up, he creates a novel so absurd and out-there that as a reader, it might be easier to assume the events to be true!

Grantchester Grind (Published in 1995) - At a college - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Porterhouse Blue (Published in 1974) - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Published in 1974, Porterhouse Blue is one of Tom Sharpe’s finest works. Tom Sharpe of the Wilt Series fame wrote an even more satirical and farcical book than Wilt, namely Porterhouse Blue. This book was made into a TV series, which was adapted by Malcolm Bradbury. The sequel to the novel is Grantchester Grind. However, Porterhouse Blue is a novel with a standalone plot.
Porterhouse Blue is based on a fictional college called Porterhouse in Cambridge. The novel’s central characters include the Porterhouse Head Porter called Skullion, the only research graduate student named Lionel Zipser and the object of his affections, Mrs Biggs, who is his bedder, Sir Godber Evans- the master and his wife, Lady Mary.
The book opens with the death of the present master. In what may be 500 years, for the first time the college faces what they call Porterhouse Blue, which is a situation where the previous master fails to announce the name of his successor before his death. As a result Sir Godber has been named the master of Porterhouse. However, for a college that has been traditionalist to its very core, there are now rumors that the new master and his wife plan to introduce changes.
This is a source of major concern for Skullion and the Fellows. They plan to counter attack the proposals for contraceptive machines, women students and canteen. Meanwhile, the only research graduate student-Lionel voices his fixation on the buxom Mrs Biggs on the megaphone for the hard of hearing Chaplain. Consequently, the whole college hears about it. Mrs Biggs who did not hear this realizes something is fishy when Lionel starts acting awkward around her.
So as to divert his fixations from Mrs Biggs, Lionel is suggested to pick up foreign students. And in his attempts to remove a few condoms from the vending machine, he lands up removing 2 boxes full. What follows is completely bizarre. Afraid he has stolen them, he tries to get rid of them, the best approach according to him being, inflating them with gas and floating them up the chimney!




If the already bizarre situation was not astounding enough for the reader, here’s more! Some of the inflated condoms get stuck in the chimney and the rest float down into the quadrangle! So as to uphold the values of the school, Skullion (who finds the floating condoms!) spends the night bursting each and every one. The same night, Mrs Biggs makes advances on Lionel and lands up in bed with him. Only in the process she lights the gas fire in the chimney, which leads to the stuck inflated condoms catching fire, which leads to an explosion in which they both are killed!
If the reader could stop laughing on such an inexplicable situation, Tom Sharpe then takes the story towards even more astounding heights. The fire brigade are called to put out the fire, but Skullion who was busy bursting inflated condoms, refuses to open the gates for the fire brigade until all the condoms are burst! As a result, he loses his job. After getting fired, he visits the bank and finds out that he has actually been left a large sum of money in the form of shares, by the previous master.
After, some revengeful tactics, he goes to Sir Godber and pleads with him to let him have his job back. But when Sir Godber refuses the two get into a fight, and Sir Godber is fatally injured. Skullion flees from the scene. 2 academics that happen to be in the vicinity see Sir Godber and rush to his aid. Close to dying, Sir Godber whispers just one word - Skullion. And of all the things!!! The 2 academics agree that Sir Godber meant to name Skullion as his successor.
They go to Skullion to tell him the good news. But, guilty conscience, Skullion feels that they are on to him and are going to turn him in. As he is being told the news he suffers from a paralytic stroke. But even so he is named the new master, and his vast fortune is utilized in rebuilding the Tower which was destroyed in the explosion.      
The novel if full of puns and wit, which do not seem superficial but rather integrated into the plot. In typical Tom Sharpe fashion, the book is one long string of hilarious situations which seem completely absurd. An extremely entertaining read, the book is a must for not only Sharpe loyalists but all who feel like having a good hearty laugh. It is to be taken lightly and as a brilliant piece of satire.

Porterhouse Blue (Published in 1974) - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Wilt Inheritance (Published in 2010) - More problems for Wilt - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Written when he was 82 years old, The Wilt Inheritance is author Tom Sharpe’s last book in the Wilt Series. Like its predecessors, this book too has Wilt entangling himself in mind blowing crazy scenarios from which it looks impossible to get out. Not his best work, but the book is quite a laugh, especially for Sharpe loyalists, who will feel a tad nostalgic towards the central character and his antics.
Tom Sharpe died 3 years after the publication of this book, due to complications resulting out of diabetes. He was 85 at the time, and said to be working on an autobiography. A witty and engaging writer, Sharpe did not necessarily move with the times in his books (they seems to be locked in an era of dial telephones and quiet Sundays), but he did attempt it never the less. This book has Wilt showcased in the 21st century.
In the Wilt Inheritance, Wilt is stuck as the nominal Head of the Communication Department at the Finland University. He is teaching students whom he does not want to teach. But, he can’t afford to lose this job. It’s the money from this uninteresting lack luster job, which is after all paying for the quadruplets private school fees and the maintenance of his wife Eva’s every demand. If all this had not already caused him a headache, his wife decides to sign him up for a summer job.




This summer job entails tutoring the step-son of a wealthy but lusty local aristocrat. His step father has hopes of sending him to Cambridge. However, once Wilt does start tutoring him, he realizes that the boy is not only a complete idiot who probably would not be able to find the bus to go to Cambridge, but also dangerously violent. Wilt learns that the boy owns a gun, which he shoots at any object which is moving, or sometimes not necessarily moving.          
Gradually the situation starts to unravel, and Wilt decides that it is time to use this now deteriorating state of affairs to his advantage. He finds a way in which the current scenario could not only put him at a financial advantage, but also give his snooty wife Eva, some tensions and headaches of her own.
While the book is not his best work, it is still worth a read and quite entertaining. It is amazing how effortlessly Tom Sharpe can develop a believable situation, and then push its boundaries to crazy extremes where it no longer seems believable. The entire scenario, with his amoral horrible little monsters for girls, a wife who seems to have perfected the snooty attitudes of high society, and wilt himself- a constant magnet for all things bad, is unimaginable, yet totally comical.
While the book may not be “hurt your stomach laughing” good, it is fast paced and sharp, with the typical Sharpe dark humor and story line which takes the viewers to place they did not known they wanted to or could visit. Even though the ideologies and prose is somewhat stuck in 1976, it does have a sense of authenticity to it, making its readers sentimental for the books they probably grew up on.

The Wilt Inheritance (Published in 2010) - More problems for Wilt - Authored by Tom Sharpe