The Great Pursuit (Tom Sharpe)

The story of a publisher, Frensic, who convinces an unimaginative would-be author, Peter Piper, to pretend authorship of a wildly successful, pornographic novel. It’s a funny book, though not riotously so. Its plot is devious and twisted, but though there’s sex and a riot and some explosions, it seems restrained compared to other Sharpe books. The story twists and turns its way to a delicious conclusion. The book’s closing sections are hilarious. Heartily recommended to anyone who likes a laugh and enjoys seeing pomposity punctured.

This satire on the book publishing industry in Britain and the USA has wonderfully exaggerated characters drawing on broad stereotypes. The characters drive the story through an increasingly complex plot that seems to keep doubling back on itself. There are some funny situations but there is less truly funny material than in some of his other titles. Part of Sharpe’s appeal is that his stories are laced with Awful Truth. It’s hard to conceive that a writer who uses penis mutilation as a recurring motif, whose characters habitually cavort in rubber rooms and sex-toy factories, might have anything relevent to say. Sharpe is driven by a deep-seated anger at the system, and this anger powers the black extremes of his humour.

The other part of his secret is harder to express in a short recommendation: because his books are charming in a sick adult way. And this charm or style seldom fails even when Sharpe is describing (in his South African series Indecent Exposure and Riotous Assembly) the efforts of white Afrikaners to eliminate black Africans by raping black women, or (in The Throwback) the efforts of a young man to hang onto his inheritance by having his dead grandfather stuffed and wired for sound. How this mixes with the reader is up to the reader’s personal taste. The Great Pursuit does fall short in the hastily fabricated ending but you can’t have everything. In all of Sharpe’s comedies we see innocence brought down. All that is good or venerable, or traditionally English, in Sharpe’s comic world is under threat by modernity and the decay of civilized standards. He seemed incapable of enduring the modern condition.

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Comments

  1. Another erudite review! I must add Tom Sharpe’s work to my reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

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