8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A comic novel
The narrator of this book is a Robert Purcell, a barrister who is the quintessential English Gentleman. Born into a rich household, Robert had a privileged childhood during which he dreamed of one day emulating his father by becoming a judge, gaining a respectable wife and having two children; a boy and a girl. Quite early on in the narration we learn that Robert has...
Published 18 months ago by J. Willis
3.0 out of 5 stars Gnomish solipsist
I struggled with this book and kept going only on account of the author's wonderful ability at a barbed thought/comment and turn-of-phrase ("Women want love and sex now. Golf and Sherry aren't enough" opines an elderly lady). Robert, the narrator, is gnomish and solipsistic - his wife describes him as "rather sinister." I found it irritating to have such an unlikeable...
Published 1 month ago by charlie
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A comic novel,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Paperback)The narrator of this book is a Robert Purcell, a barrister who is the quintessential English Gentleman. Born into a rich household, Robert had a privileged childhood during which he dreamed of one day emulating his father by becoming a judge, gaining a respectable wife and having two children; a boy and a girl. Quite early on in the narration we learn that Robert has committed a crime for which he has been sent to prison and thus his career and personal life has taken a nose dive. We do not learn what this crime is until the end of the book and it was great fun reading about Robert's life going according to plan before completely unravelling.
Robert is not a nice character, he's condescending, pompous, arrogant and a terrible snob. These are aspects of his personality of which he is very proud. So why did I like this book? Well because these attributes meant that the narrator was never 'self pitying' and also because it gave the narration its wit and humour.
'I've inherited my politics from my father. I believe in a free market but I also believe it's the primary duty of a political party to look after the poor. The poor must be fed and clothed and housed, though preferably not next door.'
He seems to be a man who reminisces constantly about a bizarre bygone era. An era which, in reality, probably didn't exist except in the minds of people suffering from a hopeless rose-tinted nostalgia for 'Englishness'.
"He came from a time when such questions went unasked. A man could have a mistress and a wife, without the wife asking questions. A man could visit a prostitute once a week, without the wife accusing him of having 'intimacy issues',........A man could have a close male friend, without that friend insisting they walk down the aisle of the Church of St Elton the John."
By the end of the book I don't think I really cared what crime Robert had committed because that wasn't the reason I was turning the pages, in the end I was drawn in by the story which had become quite developed and I ended up warming to Robert if only because the other characters were so much worse but just as hilarious.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, poignant and very English,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Hardcover)One of the funniest, most enjoyable books I've read in recent years, 'A Short Gentleman' is the confession of emotionally repressed aristocratic Englishman, Robert Purcell. He tells of his priviledged childhood, his determination to follow in the footsteps of his judge father, and then of his downfall, having committed an unspecified (until the end) crime.
The narrator is a character who, if I were to meet him real life, I would dislike greatly. He is arrogant, pompous, vain, self-righteous, snobbish and condescending. In fact, he is proud of all those qualities. And he remains true to those defining charactersitics throughout the story. Yet the remarkable achievement of this book is that I actually found myself sympathising with him, and by the end I pitied and disliked him in equal measure.
I was reminded throughout of the 'Adrian Mole' novels of Sue Townsend. Although about in some ways very different chracters, the reader has the same ability to see in the narration of events situations to which the narrator himself remains blindingly oblivious. I had the same urge to shout at the protagonist 'for goodness sake, can't you tell that...!'
There was something vulnerable in Robert's pomposity, his great intelligence hampered by his naivety and determination to act 'properly'. He was a man clinging to a way of life which is largely gone, left behind by time. Yet there was no trace of self pity in his narrative, because that wouldn't be 'correct'.
I very much enjoyed the story - whether Robert is an entirely believable character is debatable, but even if he is a little exaggerated I've certainly met people a bit like him. It's one of the few recent books that has made me laugh. It's not just a comedy though, it will make you think and even move you.
The humour and jokes are largely about Englishness (not Britishness even) - particularly in its more stereotypical form - and therefore I think it is more likely to be appreciated by those with a reasonably good knowledge of English culture and customs, probably those who have lived in the country. Readers without this knowledge would probably enjoy the book less as a lot of the humour and observation are very England-specific and therefore may not be meaningful.
But I'd highly recommend it to anyone who's spent any length of time in England or the UK, and will certainly be looking out for more of the author's books.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short Gentleman,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Kindle Edition)Robert Purcell is the product of a successful, wealthy and privileged background - he is also a convicted criminal, a fact we learn at the beginning of this funny and intelligent novel. Having been told to "open up or die", he writes down his story. It begins when, having found the entry of his father in the 1964 edition of "Who's Who", he intends to follow in his footsteps - a successful education duly accomplished he then embarks on a successful law career. Robert is intelligent, very aware of his position and place in society and comfortable with his lack of emotion. After a brief relationship with Judy Page he meets Elizabeth and it is, "marriage at first sight". However, Robert also seems unable to rid himself of any relationship - whether it is his childhood bully Pilkington, the bitter and oddly named Ticky, the outgoing Mike Bell or even Tony, the "Lemon Man" who lays the flooring, and much more besides, our short and gentlemanly hero never seems able to leave the past safely behind him.
Desite this being the narration of a crime, this is not a tragic book, although it is thought provoking in a slightly sad way. Mostly though, it is witty and, sometimes, laugh out loud funny. You feel extremely sympathetic towards Robert, as he struggles with modern living, from music - Oasis being described as the sand in a glass of water - to the constant wish people have to unburden themselves to virtual strangers. Through all that happens our hero behaves with the decorum with which he models his life and you cheer him and his misunderstandings. Women, he muses, "regard the sharing of information as power", while being the son of a judge has "always regarded the withholding of information as power." We can only be glad the author did not withhold this clever and truly humorous novel.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Innovative and Successful Comic Novel,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Hardcover)Robert Purcell,the narrator in this novel is
'a short gentleman',and like his Judge father,
a wealthy highly-educated lawyer.He is also
a self-important emotionally illiterate prig,
who from an early age has meticulously and
successfully planned his life,until he commits
a crime.The novel is his attempt to explain
himself and his crime.
The author Jon Canter is a comedy script writer,
and this a well-written satirical novel which with
humour reveals the shallowness and narcissism of
much of contemporary life.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whatever you do, read this book.,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Paperback)This book had been on my radar for ages, one of those "oh yeah, must get round to reading that" books, which I then promptly did nothing about. Thankfully my family were rather more proactive and presented me with a copy for my birthday.
It's one of those books that a cursory glance doesn't really let you into too much of what it is about, the opening pages seem to add to that sense of curiosity, that just grows and grows the further you get into it. Where are we going was a constant thought on my mind, not an annoying thought, far from it, more a first day of the summer holidays getting lost in the hills of a mediterranean island sort of thought, as the enjoyment grows the further and further you go.
Quite simply this is one of the funniest and most enjoyable books I have read in a long time, whatever you do, just read it.
3.0 out of 5 stars Gnomish solipsist,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Paperback)I struggled with this book and kept going only on account of the author's wonderful ability at a barbed thought/comment and turn-of-phrase ("Women want love and sex now. Golf and Sherry aren't enough" opines an elderly lady). Robert, the narrator, is gnomish and solipsistic - his wife describes him as "rather sinister." I found it irritating to have such an unlikeable character at the heart of a humerous book and would rather Robert's man-of-the-world chum, Mike Bell, had been to the fore. It's taxing trying to relate to a man with an emotional lobotomy who reacts to life as if a broom handle was ever up his backside. Eighteen months ago an unlikeable faux gap-year student called Orlando caused a You Tube sensation. A book - the Gap Yah Plannah - was spawned. Today, I wonder who remembers it? Yet Harry Enfield's twenty-five year old Sloane Ranger character, Tim-Nice-But-Dim, still trips off the tongue. Why? Tim is likeable, sociable and somebody you'd be happy to know (if at a distance!); Orlando is not. I think there is a lesson here for Jon Canter and his creation, Robert Purcell.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Paperback)Someone mentioned Oscar Wilde? No, he is much smarter than the superficial manufacturer of silly paradox. The two obvious influences are Waugh and Nabokov, but the debt is more 'homage' than slavish imitation. Very fine.
5.0 out of 5 stars A funny and subversive novel,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Paperback)This is a rare book for me discovered on the strength of a very short newspaper review of the paperback. I had no idea who the author was although I must have laughed at his jokes for a large part of my life given he's written for the likes of Lenny Henry.
To anyone who has encountered lawyers - and barristers in particuar - Robert Purcell is all too real, a man with such arrogance that it becomes almost touching as everything he says and does is done out of reasonable motives but with zero sensitivity and with a certainty and self-righteousness very few of us can conceive of. Canter's achievement is to make Purcell at once a Pooter-ish figure of fun, and yet also sympathetic as those around him, supposedly more emotionally savvy (and therefore "modern"), somehow prove themselves even more grotesquely inadequate and self-absorbed (honourable exception: his daughter, Isobel).
I will definitely be reading Canter's other books.
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Kindle Edition)Well-written, extremely funny, and a novel I will probably re-read at some point. The narrator has a dry sense of humour, and is utterly believable. Buy it - you'll enjoy it.
5.0 out of 5 stars At the feet of a Master,
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Paperback)I am glad I read this testament to hard core Englishness*. It made me laugh out loud - something I just don't do very often unfortunately. I have actually known people like Robert Purcell - the narrator** - they do exist in varying degrees, hanging on to their repressions and puritanical snobbiness. Buckingham Palace garden parties are crawling with their wannabees, and, it must be said, the creamy excellence of high English culture and its parasitic hangers on is most seductive, even though we know it's just hollow and brittle. What saves Robert and his manipulative self serving strategies from total dismissal as a robotic archetype are his brilliant surreal flashes and commentaries on twenty first century twaddle. The world outside his own internal construction is mad, corrupt, illogical, and intolerable. It is only his own inflexible worldview that saves him from falling into the abyss of the Untermensch. He would probably have made quite a good Nazi. Mostly I sympathized with his fundamentalism - look around you - such drivel and tat everywhere. Robert just never learned to do the compromise things, play the silly games.
The book does flag a bit in the middle with some irrelevant comedic diversions - it could have been a little shorter - that would have elevated it to the status of National Treasure. Why do i keep thinking of Swift, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Sterne, it's just so well assembled and crafted. I wonder if it's filmable, I hope so - it certainly adapted well on the Radio 4 version.
*This is such a superb piece of writing at every level. Any comments here are just trivial. Everything has been said on the flap already.
**None of this tells you much about the story, but there you are
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A Short Gentleman by Jon Canter (Paperback - 5 Mar 2009)