Monday, 28 November 2016

Till the Fat Lady's Sung review

There's a strong traditional strand of British humorous writing where a male protagonist gets themselves into various scrapes as they attempt to take on the difficulties of social life - especially so when they don't quite fit. The outstanding examples of writers in this genre were Leslie Thomas, now well out of fashion, and Tom Sharpe, whose more extreme and grotesque versions of this type of situation comedy have perhaps survived better.

Terry White has contributed several twenty-first century titles in the same vein. An early contribution, Till the Fat Lady's Sung (shouldn't that be 'Til?), finds his hero, Marcus Moon, struggling to balance his laddish existence with his banker-like and ludicrously heavy drinking mates, his job as a civil engineer and his life with a doctor, who he clearly loves, but for whom he struggles to have totally dedicated feelings.

Moon and his girlfriend Charlie are a bit too successful and normal for a typical Thomas/Sharpe main character, but the various characters that Moon meets with the potential to scupper his plans and his love life are very much from the comic grotesques tradition. Most significant is a power-mad extreme left-winger who sets out to take over a building preservation charity to add weight to a political campaign - in fact, we see part of the action from her viewpoint, which can be a little confusing when the switch is made back to the first person narrator Moon. Left-wing machinations are balanced by chinless inbred right-wingers and a totally bonkers sailor, who plays an unexpected part in the story. Another archetype of the genre is a dominant vicar's wife, who Moon first accidentally knocks off her bike and then appears to have dubious intentions when he is caught fiddling with his flies near her dogs.

Despite appearing to be self-published (more on that in a moment), the book was well proof-read, and White is an assured writer who knows how to use words. Even so, the lack of a formal editor was present, not in the technical writing, but in the way that the author was allowed to get away with being far too generous with those words. Moon's inner monologues sometimes go on for an age and every situation is too wordy. Part of the essence of this style is getting things to move on snappily, and that can't happen with so much thinking going on.

I would also say that the approach sometimes felt old-fashioned, both in the ingrained sexism of the male characters and some of the language used by Moon, which felt more like P. G. Wodehouse than a modern version of Sharpe. Despite that, though, I can't deny that I enjoyed the book, rattled through it quickly and am happy that I have a second (and somewhat slimmer) volume to move onto.

A quick comment on the publishing approach. This comes through in three points - the cover images are dreadful, the print is poor (every third spread is fine, but the rest are far too faint) and no one has told the author that the UK standard is single quotes, not double ones. However, these are all minor issues and don't get in the way of the reading. I got through the book mostly on the train and it's ideal fodder for that kind of a read. This isn't life-changing literature, but provided you can cope with that sexism, it is entertaining.

Till the Fat Lady's Sung is available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.


UPDATE - A short review of the sequel, The Horns of the Moon:

 This is the second 'Marcus Moon' novel I've read after Till (sic) the Fat Lady Sings. Once again, the protagonist Marcus Moon, a civil engineer, is up against various challenges to get through a project - in this case dealing with a huge engineering deal in Oman at the same time as coping with an evil businessman's attempt to ruin Moon's firm - and a hopeless employee with a pushy mother.

The big thing that Fat Lady Sings had going for it was that it had a bit of a feel of a Tom Sharpe style farce. Here everything is toned down a bit, and the civil engineering is more to the fore. Oddly, I found the engineering bit in the previous book really interesting, but here it was a bit too dominant. While the business battle with the bad guy was engaging, I also found the hopeless employee part a little odd. Something that was notable in the earlier book was a tendency to P G Wodehouse style language, out of place in a book set in the present. Here, the P G Wodehouse remarks have almost disappeared, but the hopeless employee's mother - a relation of Moon's business partner, is a pure Wodehouse pushy aunt, which just seems out of place in the amount of deference she was given. The acerbic Moon would simply have told her where to go.

Not a bad book by any means, but not one of the stronger entries in the series.

The Horns of the Moon is available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

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