8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An under-rated forerunner of Terry Pratchett,
This review is from: Alms For Oblivion Vol I (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The cover of this new edition gives a very poor indication of what to expect inside. Raven's intelligent, cynical novels conjure up a very different world to the comic-book one on the cover. Moreover, selling the books as "Volume 1" etc is misleading. Each novel stands alone and was published with a separate title. The first novel is "Fielding Gray", the eponymous hero being a sort of modern "Flashman". For reasons which I find baffling, this edition puts novel no 2, 'Sound the retreat', in the next collection. This voloume features the original nos 1, 3, 4 and 5. 3, 'The sabre sqaudron' is set in the world of post-war Gernmany, a suspense-filled story of intelligence which is incidentally also very funny. 4, 'The rich pay late' is written in the genre of the arty and social London world of publishing, and 5, 'Friends in low places', is a deliciously satirical political tale with plenty of seamy goings-on.
Raven wrote the books as a sequence, not a multi-volume saga of the type so beloved of large ladies with small dogs. They are, very definitely, the product of an author with a public shcool/ military background, a man of his time. The mood of the novels changes as history rolls forward, and the 'later' novels portray a different world to the early ones.
Each book is written in a different genre (a trick later employed by Terry Pratchett) and while there is an element of parody, each book also works as a proper comic novel. Fielding Gray is a novel of school and has all the elements we would expect of a pre-war account of public chool days, but seen through the prism of Raven's excoriating wit and cynicism. Anyone with a love of gossip should DEFINITELY also read Raven's autobiography, Shadows On The Grass, in which all the protagonists have their real names. It takes very little examination to work out, for instance, which of the characters in the Alms for Oblivion sequence is the late William Rees-Mogg.
Anyone expecting a bit of Catherine Cookson may wish to be aware that these are very masculine books with few female characters and a great deal of schoolboy bad behaviour, throughout.