Stephen Fry's breathtakingly outrageous debut novel, by turns eccentric, shocking, brilliantly comic and achingly romantic. Adrian Healey is magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life; unprepared too for the afternoon in Salzburg when he will witness the savage murder of a Hungarian violinist; unprepared to learn about the Mendax device; unprepared for more murders and wholly unprepared for the truth.
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English delights and so much cocks
British comedian Stephen Fry's first novel is a witty love letter to English philology and the author's semi- and pseudo-autobiographical experiences in Britain's elitist and—if the author, who kindly begins his novel with the line “Not one word of the following is true”, is to be believed—highly homoerotic public schools.
Written in a series of jump-forwards and flashbacks the story follows Adrian Healey, a flamboyant gay intellectual growing up in Thatcherian period England, whose excel in wittiness is only bested by his remarkable ability to deceive. This trait eventually captures the interest of his Cambridge tutor Professor Donald Trefusis, through whom Healey becomes intertwined with a sort of daffy albeit singular Cold War spy adventure.
Fry's dapper treatment of the English language is certainly the most enjoyable part of this light-hearted fiction filled with juvenile but clever and high-brow but stinging jokes and fables, and this delight is only heightened when the book is listened to narrated by the author himself (audiobook available on Audible, for example). The constant jumps between three different periods in the protagonist's life can, however, make the story strenuous to follow and, frankly, fail (at times) to keep up the suspense and/or mystery that the author probably intended for these jumps to convey.
Apart from all the churlish (but funny) sexual affections of the protagonist (or the narrator) the novel does also have a deeper theme of questioning what is the meaning of lies, fictions and untruths in the formation of anything that is truly human, and for that I would recommend it not only as light summer reading but serious food for thought for anyone interested in the humanistic sciences.
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A Great Disappointment
- Sharon "I am an Australian woman who enjoys reading many different styles of books, from history to sci fi and mystery to poetry."