A Thousand Flappers and Hobbledehoys

not merely superfluous, but ridiculous

The History Man — Review

this post was originally published on my Goodreads account.

An enjoyable satire of campus culture that remains somewhat relevant, but is more to be admired for its excellent single-sentence jokes than for any particularly keen socio-political insights. This book is so dense with hilarious sentences that I eventually had to stop copying them down. A few examples:

“This angered the revolutionaries, and they ‘Burn it down’ and “Revolution now’ in black paint on the perfectly new concrete of the perfectly new theatre; a small hut was set on fire, and seventeen rakes totally destroyed.”

“So it went on; in 1969, existential exposure, modern plight, the contemporary condition of pluralism and relativity, were officially accredited, with the opening of the multi-denominational chapel, named, to avoid offence, the Contemplation Centre; rabbis and gurus, ethical secularists and macrobiotic organicists presided at what was carefully not called its consecration.”

“A resolution that the chair be held out of order because it has allowed two motions to come to the vote, which are not, according to standing orders, on the agenda of the meeting is refused from the chair, on the grounds that the chair cannot allow motions to come to the vote which are not, according to standing orders, on the agenda of the meeting.”

“It seems to me that you’ve demonstrated that the main compensation of marriage is that you can commit adultery.”

These sentences, and dozens like them, made the book worth reading, but the decision to print the book with as few paragraphs as possible, even going so far as to stick dialogue from multiple characters all together in a single block paragraph, makes the reading more difficult than it’s worth. At times it seemed the book was trying to overwhelm me with its chaotic description and dialogue fragments, and maybe that’s what it was doing–after all, it is describing a tumultuous environment and time–but I don’t feel like this 230-page book ought to have taken me a month to read.

Malcolm Bradbury seems to have become as frustrated with the novel as I had by the end, because after revealing a fairly questionable allegory about literature and politics that had been moving under the surface of his book the whole time, he ends by skipping forward several months and glossing over the major events he has spent 200 pages setting into motion. The eventual fates of the characters are calculated to invite scorn and disgust, in the tradition of satires, and as I finished, I couldn’t help but feel like that this sense of scorn and disgust is possibly what Bradbury had been feeling the whole time he was writing. If that’s the case, I don’t blame him for ending early.

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This entry was posted on 13 March 2016 by in Elegant Extracts and tagged , , , , .
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