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Eating People Is Wrong - Malcolm Bradbury

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Author: Malcolm Bradbury

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      13.03.2002 08:33
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      First of all, here's a little literary teaser for you: What do Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Andrew Miller have in common? If you think it's something to do with the Booker Prize, then guess again. Of course the sharp ones among you will have figured out that it must be something to do with Sir Malcolm Bradbury, and that all will be revealed during the course of this opinion, so read on and find out... Malcolm Bradbury as born in Sheffield, :-{ but in 1941, when he was nine, his family moved to Nottingham :o) where he attended West Bridgford Grammar School. It was here that his love of writing began. :-P He met his wife Elizabeth in 1956, while working in a Nottingham library and Eating People Is Wrong (his first novel) was published in 1959. Professor Stuart Treece is head of the English department at a university in the Midlands, he's jaded and disillusioned by the monotony of his life. The building he works in is a converted lunatic asylum which is often mistaken for a railway station, and he's nearly forty. He's a bit hopeless too, the sort of person who is always the last to be served in the pub. (For example, while attempting an emergency stop during his driving test, he manages to knock down the examiner with his "motorised bicycle".) A strange young man called Louis Bates appears in his tutor group. Hmm, how can I describe Bates? Gauche doesn't come close. Pompous buffoon is a bit nearer. An obnoxious, egocentric ugly nerk, bereft of social skills, who makes Jeffrey Archer seem pleasant? Maybe that's going a bit too far. (He reminded me a little of Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces.) Inevitably, Bates's behaviour makes him unpopular, so some members of the faculty want to get rid of him, but Treece, mindful of the way the poet Shelley was expelled from Oxford, is reluctant to go along with them - just in case Bates turns out to be a mad genius!
      There isn't so much a plot, as a series of slightly farcical social occasions during which rather timid people get slightly embarrassed. All very English! Like the tea party where people "sit silently about the fringe of the room, appraising the wallpaper and looking round for a dog to pat." It's full of the sort of observational humour Alan Bennett subsequently made a career from. Faintly embarrassing misunderstandings abound: ' "Sugar?" said the lady in the flower pot hat. "Yes?" asked Treece; he thought she was being fond, but she was simply pouring out his tea. He didn't take sugar, but the mistake was too complicated to explain. ' Since it was written in the 1950's, way before political correctness, there are some dubious references to "funny" foreign students - one of whom locks himself in the lavatory (I forget why) and later offers Emma Fielding (a postgraduate student doing a thesis on fish imagery in Shakespeare's tragedies) as many goats as she wants to become his fifth wife. Oh dear! She declines, claiming to be engaged to Treece, who wishes it were true. Meanwhile, Bates has fallen madly in love with her as well. Needless to say, she finds having to deal with all their attentions rather embarrassing. This is a witty book, full of funny lines which exercised my chuckle muscles on a regular basis. By the way, the title "Eating People Is Wrong" is taken from an old music-hall song called The Reluctant Cannibal. Just don't ask me the significance of it, OK? (Because I don't know!) If you enjoy comical campus novels, you'll love this (so David Lodge fans might want to add it to their reading list, sorry Nick!) It also reminded me of Margaret Atwood's first novel "The Edible Woman" which was published a decade later. That may just be a coincidence, but there's no doubt that Sir Malcolm Bradbur
      y was a very influential writer... His most lasting achievement is the creative writing course he co-founded at the University of East Anglia, where he taught from 1965 until his retirement in 1995. A number of now-famous writers studied under him over the years, including: Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, and, yes, you've guessed it: Andrew Miller. He also adapted several novels for television (including Cold Comfort Farm and Porterhouse Blue - is that on DVD yet?) as well as episodes of Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost. You might like to know that his most famous novel - The History Man (1975) - is being serialized on Radio Four at 11:30am on Mondays, from March 18th. Sir Malcolm Bradbury died in Norwich on November 27th, 2000, aged 68, after a long illness. He is sadly missed, but his books live on. ¶ Paperback: £6.99 ¶ ISBN: 0330390295 ¶ pp 272 ¶ ___________________________________________________________ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯


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      This novel has a go at the liberal pose and extracts a mass of fun from the provincial university where the story is set. This was Malcolm Bradburys' first novel, and is one of nine titles by Bradbury reissued in 2000.

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