Posts tagged ‘P G Wodehouse’

November 23, 2014

Cat Out of Hell: Lynne Truss

by Andre

Lynne Truss CAT OUT OF HELLHumour and horror might seem unlikely bedfellows, but it’s a combination that can be scarily effective in the right hands. Lynne Truss is best known for her comic forays into grammar though she used to write novels. Cat Out of Hell, her first in 15 years, is the latest entry in the Hammer imprint series and it’s a hoot, as well as being genuinely eerie. Alec is grieving for his wife, a fellow librarian, when he’s drawn into a feline conspiracy connected to their library’s collection of occult material belonging to the sinister John Seeward. He committed suicide in the Sixties in the grounds of his stately home, but this diabolist’s power in the mastery of moggies lives on with his disciples.

What might seem silly ends up as a minor comic masterpiece thanks to the tricksy, self-aware structure of Alec’s story, Truss’s imaginative and grisly mythology for felines, and a talking cat called Roger. We know Roger’s smart – he even got to grips with Greek ferry timetables – but he might also be dangerous. Then there’s the threat from a shadowy black cat known as The Captain, who mentored Roger in the art of immortality, and the Grand Cat Master himself (appointed by Beelzebub). Fortunately, Alec has his faithful companion Watson, a dog he addresses with dialogue from the Sherlock Holmes stories. (“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive,” he says when the dirty dog returns from digging in the garden). The showdown at Harville Manor is straight out of Dennis Wheatley – with a dash of PG Wodehouse. For anyone who’s wondered what their cat is actually thinking, Lynne Truss has come up with some hilarious and horrible speculation.

July 6, 2013

A Shed of One’s Own: Marcus Berkmann

by Andre

Marcus Berkmann A SHED OF ONE'S OWNNicholas Lezard BITTER EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT MEMarcus Berkmann’s one of those eminently amusing writers I’ve been stumbling across for a couple of decades. So opening his latest comic memoir, A Shed of One’s Own: Midlife Without the Crisis, feels a bit like finding a familiar face in a reassuringly fusty pub where you’ve both retreated to escape the vicissitudes of modern life. He’s a little older, a little more resigned to greengrocers’ misplaced apostrophes and the decline of personal ambition but essentially the same amiable humourist.

Berkmann’s chronicled his cricketing obsession in multiple volumes and featured in the late Harry Thompson’s marvellous Penguins Stopped Play about village cricketers on a quixotic tour of seven continents; he’s a Private Eye regular; and he used to review TV in the Daily Mail back in the early Nineties, which was actually just a few months ago (that’s according to Berkmann’s theory of Decade Erosion among the middle aged). As I recall, he once had a ponytail, and indeed he addresses this hair episode in a chapter called ‘Mutton’, which also features the World’s Oldest Punk and such seismic sartorial shifts as the expunging of slacks and the “universally distressing phenomenon” of the T-Shirt on the Fat Man.

Berkmann wears his wisdom lightly in an engaging read that knows its (crumbling) audience without ever feeling cynical. Yes, he will make you guffaw on public transport but there are also moving passages about the mid-lifer’s filial duties, as well as a philosophical enquiry into the plight of the middle-aged hermit, tucked away in his shed and nurturing an obsession with facts (news websites, military history, true crime) in place of people. In the acknowledgements, Berkmann thanks Nicholas Lezard, a fellow mid-life memoirist whose new book Bitter Experience Has Taught Me promises more of the same –  creaky cricket, excessive amounts of red wine, a glimmer of Wodehousian wit – but with added penury.