Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Review: The Wilt Alternative

The Wilt Alternative by Tom Sharpe (1979)

Henry Wilt's life never seems to go quite right.  Even though he's now head of liberal studies at his college, it gives him even more headaches than when he was a teacher because now he not only has to deal with crude students, but raving revolutionary instructors as well.  His home life isn't much better.  At his wife Eva's insistence, they now life in a great pile of a house where Eva can give full vent to her current enthusiasm for alternative living while their quadruplet daughters only become more horrifying as they grow older.  

Worst of all, Eva has rented out the attic flat to a German woman who Wilt moons after, regretting that he'd laid eyes on her twenty years too late.  No, actually, the worst is that the woman is a wanted terrorist and Wilt's home is about to become ground zero when the authorities try to arrest her.  Unfortunately for the terrorists and the authorities, neither has reckoned on what will ensue when the Wilt family is caught in the crossfire.

Tom Sharpe's strategy for his second book in his Wilt series is to amp up the farce to the nth degree.  It seems bad enough when Wilt has an alarming encounter with a rose bush, but that turns out to be only the prelude to a much larger symphony of madness.  Farce is next to impossible to do justice to in a review and the only way to appreciate Sharpe's humour is to read it, but one thing you can say is that he knows how to handle the beats of his plot.  Time and again when things are at their peak you expect him to pull off his trick and take his bow.  Instead, Sharpe keeps heading the ball into the air again and again until you wonder how much more insane things can possibly get.

But Sharpe is a merciful writer as well.  This time around, poor Inspector Flint, who was driven to distraction in  Wilt has the satisfaction of warning all and sundry about what is going to happen when Henry Wilt is involved and then sitting back and seeing himself proven right.

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