19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Is this Tilling?,
This review is from: Major Benjy (Paperback)I received my copy Major Benjy, by Guy Fraser-Sampson, as a gift from kind friends who are firm fans of E.F. Benson's Lucia/Mapp series which makes me feel somewhat ungracious to their generosity by reviewing Mr Fraser-Sampson's novel. I admit, on opening the parcel, I felt an uncomfortable twinge - there were strong recollections of my reading, some time ago, of Tom Holt's pale Benson imitation "follow-on novels" based on the same characters. However, I took some comfort from Messrs Holt's, Brandreth's and McGillion's positive supporting book cover statements.
Sadly, this comfort was very short-lived none I can only guess that the statements referred to someoneelse's book. I acknowledge that "Major Benjy" will appeal to some E.F.Benson fans but I have to say that it does not appeal to me. I am in complete agreement with what has already been said in the reviews here concerning Mr Fraser-Sampson's book's many failings. For me, the saddest of all my disappointments was that the author failed to understand the British class system and reflect those social mores of the period that Benson subtly mocked in his five brilliant comedies of manners - the Lucia/Mapp series. Many people of Benson's time, and especially the middle classes, made a career out of respectability. Their efforts and pretensions provided oceans of grist for Benson's literary mill.
Following, as a close second, my next disappointment was that Benson's elegant language with its light touch and brilliant scintillating humour developed by superb understatement has not been reflected to any degree here in this book . Instead we are presented, in mock Bensonian style, vulgarities that include "bowel movements" and "snot that has hardened" - terms that not only cheapen the book, but distance it even further from the gentle language and fine grammar that Benson's narrator used.
I cannot agree with Tom Holt's book cover statement saying, "Benson would have loved it". Quite the contrary, I imagine that Mr Benson would have been dismayed beyond belief at the re-writing of his characters - especially that of Irene Coles and Lucy, her maid (and that is how Benson described her, not as the partner). Never in Benson's work has a servant played such a significant role! The scene between Mrs Gillespie and Lucy, with its Sapphic overtones, added a particularly jarring note that made this reader wonder just what was driving the author. This is not to say that illusions to sex do not appear in the originals. Speculations are made about Mr and Mrs Mapp-Flint's sleeping arrangements and Mapp's fictitious pregnancy together with Lucia's hoping that, after they are married, Georgie would find the oak bedroom quite comfortable. Benson addresses these thorny issues with such a careful choice of words and obliquity of language that make the situations at once both engagingly hilarious and an accurate mirror of the middle class sensibilities of the period. In the originals, for the most part, Benson's characters are quite asexual. This is because, in polite society of the period, sex was not a subject for discussion and because Benson intended that his character's social foibles and idiosyncrasies would form the foundation of the comedy.
Like other reviewers, I advise Lucia/Mapp fans to avoid this book - or at least borrow a copy before purchasing. This could make any disappointment easier by one's not having to outlay the purchase price. For those readers who are interested to meet the residents of Riseholme and Tilling for the first time, I strongly recommend buying the originals - all five books. A new reader will enjoy each and as I can attest, with each re-reading over the years, the characters will remain as fresh and entertaining as they were on first acquaintance. With "Major Benjy", one read will be more than enough or perhaps, too much.
I can only suggest to the author that, should he consider a second novel concerning the residents of Tilling or Riseholme (or a better project would be to revise this one), not only should he thoroughly re-read all five in the series, get the spellings correct (Twemlow, Twistevant etc) but in particular, take pains to understand the social mores and class markers that underpin Benson's comedy. There is need to view the characters through early 20th Century, middle class eyes not through 21st Century ones. Or, perhaps, better - the author should invent his own characters and set them elsewhere. To paraphrase Lucia when she and Georgie returned to Riseholme after visiting Tilling, "we are perfect as we are".