Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Review: Wilt in Nowhere

Wilt in Nowhere (2004) confirms that Tom Sharpe is the most butt-clenchingly funny author in Britain today.  I say "butt-clenchingly" because Mr Sharpe's fort√© is the sort of black farce where the characters, most of whom are thoroughly unpleasant, become tangled in a bizarre web of circumstances that result in their suffering an ever-increasing avalanche of sexual, legal and scatological misadventures that becomes so great that the reader can't help but feel sorry for the poor bastards no matter how much they deserve their comeuppance.

The fourth of the Wilt novels, Wilt in Nowhere finds the eternally put-upon Henry Wilt once again longing for a temporary escape from his teaching job at the insanely PC Fenlands College of Arts and Technology; his loving, dim-witted, yet formidable wife Eva; and most especially his ghastly quadruplet of pubescent daughters who could drive Albert Schweitzer to kicking his dog inside of five minutes. He hits on the idea of bundling his family off to visit their wealthy relatives in the United States while Wilt, begging off because of fictional teaching commitment, goes on a walking holiday where he plans to rediscover England by wandering the countryside without map or guide until he hasn't a clue to where he is.

This being a Tom Sharpe novel, the plan starts to unravel the moment Wilt steps out the door.  Before they realise it, Eva and her daughters are the centre of an international drug smuggling investigation, their American relatives are having the details of their sex lives blasted across the countryside at 10,000 decibels, and Wilt is in hospital feigning amnesia–which is just as well because he's unknowingly been swept up in an arson/murder/paedophila case involving a shadow cabinet minister. 

The one drawback of a Tom Sharpe novel is that, being a farce, it's impossible to relate how incredibly funny a particular episode is.  The humour doesn't come from a neat turn of language, although some of Sharpe's descriptions and character reactions are priceless, but rather from the horrible train wreck that you can see coming even if no one on the page can.  Where Sharpe excels is in always allowing the train to hit and making sure that the thing hit is filled with satirical fresh eggs.  It also helps that Sharpe never hesitates in making his opinions known and that he is never one to let political correctness prevent him from driving his point home.  In fact, if he manages to skewer the PC brigade like a beetle on a pin while doing so, that's a bonus. 

Also, Sharpe has found in his alter ego of Henry Wilt a brilliant comic creation.  He's not only a perfect everyman figure who embodies what most middle-aged men really think about their lives when they are completely honest with themselves, but he exhibits an incredible talent as the only sane man in an insane world.  It's a sanity that allows Wilt to drive others completely 'round the bend by making seemingly innocent and reasonable remarks that turn out to be logical time bombs waiting to go off.

Wilt in Nowhere isn't the best of the Wilt novels. It lacks the go-for-the-jugular sense of the first two and it's disappointing that Wilt spends the entire middle part of the book unconscious, but it's still a solid bit of work that shows that Mr Sharpe hasn't gone dull.  Sorry, the pun was just lying there.

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