Customer Review

14 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THEOREM, 16 Nov 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Hippopotamus (Paperback)
This novel, published in 1994, has reminded the critics of certain other writers. I can myself see a resemblance to the narrator of Kingsley Amis's The Green Man in this story told by an ageing, bibulous, randy has-been putting up a show of curmudgeonliness much as Amis himself liked to do. I suppose there are distant echoes of Waugh too, the Waugh of the Diaries and Brideshead Revisited. On the other hand, readers of the Guardian newspaper around 1994 will remember a character created by the clever and wicked cartoonist Posy Simmons who is very similar indeed to Fry's Ted Wallace (the hippo in person) - struggling writer and schoolmasterish spelling pedant in addition to the characteristics already mentioned. That resemblance, whichever way the influence worked, is altogether too close to be coincidence. I sensed another possible influence too, from 25 years earlier. There is an odd film by Pasolini 'Theorem' about a young man who exerts untoward sexual influence over all around him, and for all the countless differences of tone and style from this book I can't help suspecting a kinship with that too.

The theorem here is one that perms situations of, shall we say, a kind we don't much encounter in our humdrum daily lives. It is not about characterisation at all. The characters are a harlequinade of weirdos, meant as vivid and not as realistic. The revelations they seem to take in their stride without missing a step are surreal, but I actually think I'm even more amazed by the mental agility, not to say the emotional pliancy, that they display at the end when Ted himself (either stepping out of character or reverting to his earlier persona briefly mentioned in a previous chapter) explains all. What it all seems to me to come down to is this - if someone is as brilliantly witty and ingenious as Stephen Fry is, then his novels will be more about a peacock display of the wit and ingenuity than about anything else. The phrase-making is coruscating, the eye for people and the ear for the way they talk are acute, and the repressed but desperate sense of how ridiculous everyone and everything are pervades chapter after chapter. As you might expect, there is a darker side to a personality like this, and that comes through explicitly in the scene in nazi Germany. It also comes through in the incident of the boy and the horse, but if that stops you in your tracks I urge you to continue, because you will get not one subsequent surprise but two.

The final surprises come, hardly surprisingly, at the end. You would never guess the real situation, but there is no inevitability to it. It is just dam' ingenious, and it's about being ingenious and nothing else, not even about being convincing. A hundred other endings would have done just as well, provided they were clever enough. It's not hard to hear the black dog of depression baying through the music of this elegant masked ball, but if you have a good ear for overtones I believe you ought to hear something else as well. There is a real tone of human sympathy and downright kindness in Fry. It's something I sense in his public persona as an actor and entertainer, and something I sense in at least some of his novels. I won't say that it's what I read them for, because I read them for the brilliant chatter more than anything else, but there is an odd but agreeable aftertaste to it all, strange as it may be at times and of course strictly not for the Moral Majority, at least not when they are in full moral mode. I have a hunch that the poet (whom I adapt with apologies) spoke for Fry before Fry was born

The stars did not deal him the worst they could do:

His pleasures are plenty, his troubles are two.

But O, his two troubles, they reave him of rest,

The brains in his head and the heart in his breast.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in

Review Details


4.2 out of 5 stars (46 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
Used & New from: 0.01
Add to wishlist


Location: Glossop Derbyshire England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 277