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The Gropes
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on 4 September 2009
Tom Sharpe has written many hilarious books that will make you laugh out loud. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. All the typical elements are there; deranged characters who are arrested and misunderstood by the police, drunkenness, people who live how they choose on the moors far from any civilising influences, but it just doesn't work. In books like Wilt and The Throwback, these elements are hilarious. In The Gropes, we start off in the dark ages, have a quick history of the central family up to the present day, then the story starts with someone else. Most authors create their character's backgrounds, but they don't usually include them as the starting chapters.
Perhaps it's because it's a short book. There are a lot of very brief chapters of two or three pages. He then leaves half a page blank and starts the next chapter on a new page. You feel like you've been given short weight.
I thought the author never really got a grip on his story. It's pointless to introduce characters who then run away from the others who are driving the plot. Each character's problem is resolved separately, but not in a satisfactory or convincing manner. I got the impression that the author didn't really know what to do with each story thread. Each person's fate has more to do with the author tidying things up than the result of their characteristics and decisions. There are some funny moments, but there's nothing that you'd remember and discuss with someone else who'd read the book. It feels amateurish, it's hard to believe that it's the same Tom Sharpe who gave us the homicidal Konstabel Els and the ill-educated Lieutenant Verkramp. I wonder about the person who thought this was worth printing. Did anyone actually read this book, or did they just look at the name on the manuscript and write him a cheque?
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on 8 August 2017
Having read all of Mr Sharpe's other books I bought this in spite of some dreadful reviews. Sadly, I have to say they were correct. Had this been submitted to a publisher as a first novel we would likely never have heard of Tom Sharpe as it would not have been published in a million years. It is a weak humourless hollow ghost of an effort that could easily have been written as a poor parody of Tom Sharpe rather than by the man himself. It promises little yet still fails to deliver. The ending in particular is incredibly weak, as though a twelve year old rushing to finish his English language homework has just realised that there's something good on the telly. Furthermore, as stated by a previous reviewer, it is in large script with dozens of empty pages and the final 15 pages are actually a taster for a different book. With normal type set as in other Sharpe books this would scarcely fill 130 pages. I am a slow reader and finished this in four hours. Please avoid this at all costs as it will only taint your view of an otherwise brilliant writer. I do not know what Mr Sharpe or the publishers were thinking about, letting this monstrosity onto the market. This only gets one star because the system does not allow me to give it zero. It is that bad!
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on 22 January 2011
I am somewhat surprised at all the negative comments, but they are all from devout Sharpe fans. If you are not a regular reader of Tom's efforts, do not let those impressions influence you negatively.

It is true that the "goings-on" have been created from a somewhat standard Sharpe "template" and the character types a little regurgitated from earlier works. However, if you hark back to the beginnings, Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure were packed to the rafters with the most improbable, unbelievable and impossible situations. Each subsequent Tom Sharpe tome followed this trend - but each was hailed for it's "lunatic fantasy" or "fiendish inventiveness."

Here in "The Gropes" we have much of the same, but told in such delightfully Tom Sharpe fashion. The wording - whether descriptive or dialogue - is very much the stuff that makes you laugh out loud (embarrassingly if on a Bus or Train) or puts a smile on your face while you shake your head in disbelief.

It is pure farce, built from the same rocks as Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors," the old "Brian Rix Farces" on TV or even "Fawlty Towers." You cannot help but laugh at situations brought about by total misunderstandings, jumping to conclusions, misinterpretations and Tom Sharpe's open ridiculing and obvious contempt (perhaps) for the Police Force.

For newcomers to Sharpe, or for the occasional reader even, this book is guaranteed to amuse, bemuse and - despite the poor ending - leave you wanting more. Tom Sharpe DOES have an inventive mind... for situations that most people couldn't even think possible. That's the beauty and glory of it all.
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on 24 January 2011
I have every book bar one by Tom Sharpe, whom I greatly like. In recent years his powers have faded a little and you feel him straining to achieve the effortless chaos of his earlier comedy. This has shades of Sharpe past but also, some of the failings of the latter books.

Without spoiling it for you, here is a quick assessment. It has a lightning fast ancestral history at the start giving you an idea what to expect later. Then it stacks the deck of cards carefully in terms of character background and plotlines, so you can see the house of cards that will be brought down. This is all fine...and there are definite overtones of Wilt in two of the characters at least.

It becomes quite authentic Sharpe when then house of cards starts to collapse (as it always does), some of the old comic skills are still there. But where it lacks Sharpe's old master touch is in the drawing together of the threads to tie a bloody great knot at the end. Instead he lets many threads hang and wraps it up as fast as it starts, just when he'd appeared to reach the middle of the novel. There was a lot more value to be extracted. Its more a question of what's missing than what is not.

It's a taster of Sharpe, not a main course. He is still a distinct voice, Tom Sharpe, and still bleakly funny and absurd. But it is a faint echo of the man who powered through the first half of his literary output smashing every eggshell on the planet. That's a shame, but I still enjoyed this. I just wanted it to be as good as they used to be. 3 stars might just be on the generous side.
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on 30 November 2010
This is a bizarre thing to have been published. I've been a fan of pretty much everything Tom Sharpe has written - even Grantchester Grind and The Midden were quite good - but this is a really terrible book. I would have awarded a simple one star but there are a couple of moments that hark back to vintage Sharpe so he still thinks in the same way and a couple of small sparks suggest he still has it. Sadly these moments peter out and the book drifts into sub-mediocrity in spectacular fashion.

The main problem is, as others have touched on, that he doesn't know what to do with the plot once it gets going. It's almost like a basic script for a book rather than the complete article. The basic plot - which inevitably involves various people getting hold of the wrong end of the stick - is OK. It sort of works. As the story picks up pace the various elements are suddenly finished without any real thought. The book's end is so sudden it's like no actual plot finale had been thought of and the author sent it off for publication without realising it hadn't actually been finished. That's exceptionally poor for a mind as clever as Tom Sharpe and I'm quite gutted at how sorry this book is. What a shame.
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on 4 August 2011
The trouble with Tom Sharpe books is that they are all the same.

I started reading them back in 70s on the recommendation of friend. The South African ones, Blott on the Landscape, Porterhouse Blue, the first Wilt etc. I found them very funny.

The trouble is that as Tom wrote more and more of them their shared storylines and characters became more and more obvious.

They all have some of the following: disfunctional couples who hate each other, embarrassing precocious children, incompetent and impetuous police, psychiatrists, explosions, sex-mad and sex-hating characters, weird aristocrats,condoms or sex toys. Characters may have different names but their actions and speech patterns (loads of expletives) are the same as in different books.

I was surprised that they are still being churned out, but I read the latest Wilt (The Wilt Inheritance) earlier this year and it was so-so.

As to The Gropes: it is not good. The usual formula applies but it becoming less and less effective.

I won't go into the plot (you can guess) but what struck me is Tom Sharpe seems to have bored himself into submission, he just seems to have given up and the book is effectively unfinished. (Possible spoiler follows)

One of the main characters ends up in foreign climes where he conveniently drops dead (too much sex!). Two of the others end up being committed to mental institutions - not there is anything wrong with them, another common sub plot.

As for the "main plot" that just collapses into an unlikely "happy ending".

Unless you are very keen on Tom Sharpe I would give this one a miss.
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on 8 December 2015
This was a really disappointing read. When I read the first chapter I had great hopes of a good tale, but that was it, from there onwards it did not go anywhere, at no stage did I inwardly giggle or certainly not outwardly laugh, its saving grace was that it was short, big type, empty pages, and chapters starting half way down the page, and therefore could be finished, and true judgement could be given. It is fortunate that Tom Sharpe is no longer with us as I would hate him to read criticism, as many of his other books have give so much enjoyment and outrageous laughs. As other reviewers have stated this book had the name of Tom Sharpe on the front cover so it must be alright, a bit like me choosing the book to read , no looking at the opening page or the blurbs, just bought it it must be ok.As for the critic reviews on the back, I think that they are talking about Tom Sharpe in general, rather than this specific book., or else I will become a book critic!!!
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VINE VOICEon 20 September 2009
Tom Sharpe was a master of farce and black comedy. Note the 'was' because this is a big let down. It's a terrible shame because the author has given us some absolute gems over the years, real laugh out loud stuff, but in this it appears the magic has gone.

It's a very short book 244 pages approx and deals with a dynasty of strong women who dominate their husbands and seek to produce further female off-spring to keep the line going. Unsuspecting males are enticed through various means to continue the female bloodline.

Mr Sharpe can write and gives us detailed and amusing pictures of the characters and spends some while setting up the frame and the characterisation for his story. But then it all goes a bit flat, the Gropes saga becomes second fiddle to the Police thinking there has been a murder, very much in the fashion we have seen before from Tom Sharpe, so it felt a little tired.

In the end the book felt both short and rushed and, sadly, not in the least bit amusing. Not the book for Tom Sharpe fans and certainly not the book for someone wanting to try his works. Best avoided.
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on 8 October 2009
On the day I discovered that my second favourite comic writer Terry Pratchett had written a new book I also discovered that my favourite comic writer had written a new one too. I bought them both and spent the next few days chuckling... Then I started this book and the laughter died.

It's tough giving a beloved author a bad review, but honestly there's nothing to enjoy here. The initial set-up is fine, promising the usual mayhem involving inadequate men and dominant women. It has the feeling of The Throwback, but it never gets going. The story, such that it is, is so mundane it's hard to see why anyone thought it worth the effort of putting on paper. Nothing is extreme enough to be comic, or real enough to matter.

Neither is there a single comic set-piece that works. Events in Sharpe novels used to spiral ever more wildly out of control with a simple misunderstanding leading to trains derailing and whole suburbs blowing up, but not here. They just fizzle out without a pay-off. But worst of all there's a complete lack of comic one-liners. No wit, no wry smiles, no nice turns of phrases. Nothing. The only way you know this is supposed to be a comedy is by looking at the cover.

Sad though it is and painful though it is to say it, go read an early Sharpe novel again rather than this. The only good thing about this book is it's very short. I read it in two and a half hours and then wished I'd gone to sleep instead. Oh, and note to self: next time make sure you read amazon reviews before buying. They'll save you money!
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on 24 October 2017
I have read a lot , and laughed a lot whilst reading Tom Sharpes books, from the throwback, through riotous Assembly and enjoyed them all. But this outing, I found OK, mediocre. Funny in places, albeit less places. The storyline took a long time to set up, to build up, only to be let down, with almost a " and they all lived happily ever after. Not his best, if I had read this first, it would have been the last
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