The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry

th3The novel only elicited a brief discussion on this occasion, which could only be considered as general apathy towards the book.

There was a focus on the supposed ‘author’ of the story, the has-been poet and general misogynist, Ted Wallace, with one member voicing his unabashed hatred of him. Another wanted to like the character but felt he lost the point of him; suggesting that, just as the character got into his stride, he became diverted. Ted’s rambling and often tangential letters were used as a prime example of this. Other members however quite liked him, finding him fun and charming, despite him living in a moral swamp. One member found their fondness of the character increased as the novel went on.

Surprisingly, the nuclear character of the novel, Davey, didn’t provoke much comment, other than one member joking that Christianity would be a completely different religion if Jesus had healed using the same methods as Davey. Although reference was made to the perhaps not so coincidental appropriation of a rather infamous publicity agent’s name, most other characters that featured in the book failed to receive a mention.

However, the mischievous, high-camp of Oliver was singled out for vitriol, with one member claiming to have hated the character, with specific reference made to the alliterative names he gives to nouns. Making reference to one of the group’s previous books, Queens by Pickles, a member countered that characters such as Oliver do exist in real life, despite being of another era.

The style of the novel prompted comparisons to other authors, with one member referring to its spoofing of Waugh as entertaining. Another member added that the stories of another notable influence on Fry, P G Wodehouse, only tend to run no further than a couple of hundred pages; it was considered a long book for a short story. Perhaps more surprisingly, Jilly Cooper, whom I suspect is not a monumental influence on Fry, was also referenced as a stylistic bedfellow, with one member claiming the novel was a cross between a Jilly Cooper Story and Downton Abbey; a curious notion.

Whilst one member enjoyed the epistolary nature of the novel, feeling it showed a command of the plot, the Agatha Christie style ‘reveal’ at the end of the book however wasn’t appreciated.

The light treatment of weighty topics such as bestiality and, with what is essentially statutory rape, was noted and it was felt that these matters could have been explored in a manner more befitting of the gravitas associated with these crimes.

Despite the majority of the group recognising the author as quite the wordsmith, one member felt Fry was too verbose in the novel, used too much heightened vocabulary and that the turns of phrase he employed was very specific to England and therefore the entire meaning of what was written was not fully understood.

The first instalment of Fry’s auto-biography, Moab is My Washpot and his semi-autobiographical debut novel, The Liar, were discussed briefly, with a member noting that, whilst his autobiographical work is moving, this novel was just titillating. Continuing with the autobiographical theme; the side story of Lord Logan’s father being a Hungarian sugar beet specialist rings true with Fry’s own maternal grandparents who also grew sugar beet in Hungary.

TH2The authenticity of the protagonist’s voice was raised and a member questioned whether it was believable, or just another conduit for Fry’s projections of the self, in the vein of his alter-ego, the Cambridge professor, Donald Trefusis. It is certainly difficult to entirely forget you’re reading Fry, to disassociate the novel from the author; being that it’s written in such a familiar manner.

One member reaction to the novel was with a ‘hurrumphing’ placing down of the book. Another member’s reaction was ‘so what’, feeling they had not had an ‘experience’ by reading it. Other members went as far as claiming the book to be ‘pointless’, a ‘sustained joke’ and ‘pompous’. Pertinently, the member who suggested the book, having read it originally quite a number of years ago, found it disappointing and not as humorous as they had first time round. It was recognised that the novel had some relevance, but it was questioned what relevance it would have when it’s another 25 years older: “We live in arse-paralysingly drear times”…

THQuotations:

There are times when you envy faggotry, and times when you don’t. At least we plain old hetters never have to set up house with clerks and welders and shop assistants. Call me a snob and call me unkind, but how Oliver can bear the idea of ignor­ant dull-witted oafs from Clapham or Camberwell farting in his bed and scratching their balls in front of his cheval-glass, I cannot imagine.

How much do you know about computers? A great deal more than me, I should imagine. The machine I’m using at the moment is the first I have ever touched. I think of it really as no more than a socially ambitious type-writer. It belongs to Simon and has been transported to my room together with its printer and a simply baroque quantity of cabling. It lives on the writing-desk and hums irritably like the engine-room of a submarine. When I haven’t used it for a while the monitor succumbs to a fit and gaudily coloured fish swim quietly to and fro across the screen, which eccentric mannerism I find strangely endearing. The computer has a device attached to it called a MOUSE, on account of the squeaking noise it makes when it is grabbed and rubbed along a hard surface.

All I know about the use of the thing is that I have to SAVE all the time. This soterial requirement has no evangelical basis, but is s: me from accidentally erasing the thing typing.

Well, blow me down if I didn’t discover that JANE.2, my last letter to you, claimed that it was `Modified on 27/07/92 at 20.04′ — or five past eight yesterday evening. Now, I know for a fact that I was sucking down pre-dinner cocktails in the library with Rebecca, Oliver and Max at five past eight yester­day evening. I also know for a fact that I haven’t so much as looked at the computer since my marathon session on Friday and Saturday, the 24th and 25th…. This can only mean that SOMEBODY has read my last letter to you. This would never have happened if you’d allowed me to communicate in MANUSCRIPT (that’s English for handwriting).

Nowadays it would appear to be a flag of shame. Just because we like to take it up the Gary Glitter, darling, it doesn’t mean we have to grow fat to satisfy the fears of our friends.’

What do you want, blood? I am not one of those easy aristocratic types who can walk with kings nor lose the common touch. I’m a tight-arsed bourgeois masquerading as declasse. Give us a break, baby-doll.

`Well, for your information, my body is not something I offer around like a tray of canapes.’

“But you can’t argue that the world isn’t in an unhealthy moral state.”

“Wouldn’t think of it dearest. People lie, cheat, rape, swindle, kill, maim, torture and destroy. Bad thing. People also pop into bed together and cosy up. Good thing. If we think fucking is a sign of moral decay then we’re a little bit stupid-stupid, aren’t we?”
“In a dung heap, even a plastic bead can gleam like a sapphire.”
“When push-off comes to shove-off, a man must have a reason to get out of bed in the mornings, something more than the threat of bedsores, at any rate.”
“Cynical is the name we give those we fear may be laughing at us.”
“It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue”
“A month’s salary, deep regret, the telephone number of some foul rehab clinic and my lance was free.”
“Nobody seems to understand that in such matters the tact and sympathy should come from the one who is about to die, not the poor bugger who has to take the news.”
“If you spend your life on a moral hill-top, you see nothing but the mud below. If, like me, you live in the mud itself, you get a damned good view of clear blue sky and clean green hills above. There’s none so evil-minded as those with a moral mission, and none so pure in heart as the depraved.”
“Naturally I’ve known girlies form an attachment to the younger male before now, but in the tennis score of the bedroom most girls in my experience would rather Love Thirty or Love Forty than Love Fifteen. Men, of course, are a whole other issue; they start at Love All and stay there until they’re dragged from the court”
“I also knew that he was the kind of anile little runt who, in foyers and theatre bars the West End over, can be heard bleating into their gin and tonics, “I go to the theatre to be entertained.”
“[his healing skills] ..lay in the ability to comfort, to comfort in the proper sense, to make strong, to fortify”
“You want poetry, first you have to muck in with humanity, you have to fight with paper and pencil for weeks and weeks until your heart bleeds: verses aren’t channelled into your head by angels or muses or sprites of nature.”
“And he, despite the gallons of free whisky on offer, was wishing himself violently elsewhere.”
“The service took place on one of those afternoons that occur only in the past.”

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