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How I Saved the British Empire (Kindle)

Michael Waldock
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
The hero is a young man derided, manipulated, put upon and used by his ghastly upper-middle class family. There are echoes of Cold Comfort Farm and the Addams but with cut-glass accents. Here he tells in the first person of his efforts to do something for himself, constantly frustrated by mysterious inteference by absolutely everybody that he comes across. His attempt at a cycling holiday is comprehensively hijacked and we are regaled with the consequences. We are served up a happy and amusing mixture of Mr Pooter, Jerome in his boat, Lemuel Gulliver, Berry and Jonah, and Candide. And that’s just the hero. The transition to a Road novel in the second half enables encounters with a galè re of weirds rolled out for our delectation by the author. There is even a German who reminds me of Dennis the Dachshund from S G Hulme Beaman’s Toy Town.

The result in effect is Dornford Yates meets Tom Sharpe with a dash of HG Wells for the cycling and perhaps the politics, Erskine Childers, the Grossmith brothers, a reminder of Pip in Great Expectations and even an echo of Fielding; put it together and the style is unique and, I find, very entertaining.

The author gets the upper part of the upstairs-downstairs setting rather well, give or take the odd anachronism in dialogue. He is also to be congratulated on the depth of his research into all manner of subjects - bicycles, navies, coaling stations and so forth - and has certainly covered the course. What is also pleasing is that the author rules the reader with a light hand, leaving one to work out what is going on from this hint and that.

There is one downside about reading this on Kindle, which is that some of the illustrations are almost impossible to read, although one can usually guess what is intended to be shown.

The most important thing for me with fiction is that I care about the characters and what happens to them. This book more than met those tests. I was continually wondering what oddity was going to turn up next, and every character however minor was well-rounded. The dénouement where the loose ends of the farce are all neatly tied up is very neatly managed. All in all this is a jolly romp which I much enjoyed.
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