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A good read, but could have done with a better plot
on 27 April 2009
In a well-crafted story, the threads are carefully laid out as the chapters go by, and the reader wonders how on earth they can be drawn together. At the climax of the book, the author deftly ties in one after another, and looking back from the viewpoint at the end of the book, the reader can see how each one had its necessary place in the complete tapestry and mutters, sotto voce, "Of course! How could it have been otherwise?"
This is a less well-crafted story, in my opinion. The threads are laid out - each charming and tantalising - and then in the last two chapters, a handful of the most promising are hastily tangled together, with a couple of new ones thrown in for good measure. And at the end, I was left muttering, "Oh. Is that it, then?"
That's not to say that the writing isn't of a high quality. Stephen Fry is a polymath and a genius - as would have been known by any followers of the now ancient "Fry and Laurie", even before the advent of QI. His writing reflects his deep wells of knowledge, and does an excellent job of capturing the flavour of a particular strand of public school/Cambridge character. I blush as I read back my own lines written in response to his book. And though I come from a very different position from Fry philosophically, he is somebody I like and respect.
I wasn't particularly shocked by the explicit language and sexual references, though I suspect the blatant advertising of gay sexuality by a public figure may well be part of the reason for the book's widespread critical approval - after all, who within the media would want to appear to react against such a book?
But despite the 4-5 star writing, my frustration with the plot left me disappointed. The book is fine as a comic novel (which to be fair may have been all that was intended) but came close, and then fell short, of being much more.