What a pleasure it was to re-read this wonderful novel.
The basic premise is that Donald Cameron, having been wounded towards the end of the First World War, inherits a modest estate from his late father, but only on condition that he stays out of his native Scotland for at least eleven months of every year until he reaches the age of fifty. Forced to relocate to London, Donald undertakes a study of the English as a race, having previously been warned that their two most important national traits were the sacrosanct nature of team spirit, and a reverence for Lord Nelson.
As he wanders through English life Donald is nonplussed by the English whom he rapidly identifies as a race wracked by internal conflict - the most courteous, kind and charming people can, without any warning, occasionally (and more or less without warning) demonstrate the most heinous meanness, cruelty and spite, to be followed by the most painful remorse and generous amends. Author MacDonell obviously loves the English as his character Donald, whom he treats to a serious of hilarious experiences. The chapter devoted to the village cricket match in which a bewildered Donald participates has been frequently anthologised elsewhere, and is to my mind the finest and funniest writing about the game ever. Even people with no love for the game can seldom fail to be won over by the glorious chapter in which he evokes a Corinthian spirit and rural idyll that possibly never existed and was certainly long gone by 1933 when McDonnell wrote this. In another chapter Donald is taken to an exclusive golf course where he meets an old comrade from back home in Buchan who has carved out a niche as the club professional, a role which he plays to the maximum adopting the role of curmudgeonly Jock, much to the delight of the posh member s who congratulate themselves on knowing how to deal with "a real character". Needless to say, Cameron, with his hickory-shafted clubs, emerges victorious against the suburbanites despite their expensive clubs and fashionable accessories, though equally true to form they all pay up without hesitation or regret.
Later in the year he goes to the annual "varsity rugby match" at Twickenham, one of the great social events of the year. As it happens the match takes place in the midst of regular London pea-souper, so no-one can see a thing. However, everyone has a jolly good time regardless, and a huge amount of wine is still consumed.
Light-heaterd throughout, there are enough unexpected twists to prevent the novel form falling into predictability, and MacDonell's prose is beautifully crafted.
Well worth reading!
4 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?