Magazine article The Spectator

Not Much of the Nice and the Good

Magazine article The Spectator

Not Much of the Nice and the Good

Article excerpt

I have an affection for Tom Sharpe. My writing career began at Secker & Warburg, and it was the profits from Tom Sharpe and George Orwell that subsidised us poets - or so I was told.

Best-selling Sharpe is still at it. This is his 14th title since Riotous Assembly in 1971, written in the same energetic, foulmouthed prose with the same mastery of intricate plot and peopled with the same grotesques. The `farce-master' (The Mail on Sunday) is a past-master who knows how to do the trick and does it again and again, the P.G. Wodehouse de nos jours.

And yet why do I have no inclination to re-read the Sharpes I have enjoyed, to rediscover Wilt in the same way I periodically rediscover Jeeves? Probably because I like Jeeves and I don't like Wilt. I don't like anybody in Tom Sharpe. But that's the point. This is not Winnie-the-Pooh for adults. This is serious business. This is satire.

This is The Way We Live Now in postThatcher Britain.

He [Timothy Bright, a Lloyd's Name] moved in a world of self-congratulation and socially accredited greed. In his clubs and at weekend house parties, at political conferences and intimate dinner parties, Timothy Bright could be relied on to say that prosperity had finally come to post-war Britain and that the Prime Minister had saved the nation from itself.

No loveable buffers and duffers here. Sharpe's universe is almost entirely populated by monsters of stupidity and greed, bent financiers, corrupt and brutal policemen, racist old colonials, weak and venal politicians, perverts, thugs, murderers and ugly old women with insatiable sexual appetites straight out of Smollet. …

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