I’ve tried to read this novel slowly in order to stretch the pleasure as it is the third of Alan Isler’s five books, only two more to go. On mere 240 pages (Vintage, 6.99 GBP) we have what the Germans call a ‘Bildungsroman’ (no English term exists), it’s a novel on the spiritual development of a character from childhood to adulthood, a tragic-comic family saga, a campus novel à la David Lodge, a slap-stick farce, Shakespearean confusions, a collection of witty poetry held together by a “dense, referential, barbed and well-educated prose, relishing word-play and puns (John Melmoth, Sunday Times). The prelude takes us to Leeds where in 1941 a Jewish family buries the main protagonist’s father. We’re introduced both into the family saga and the prevailing style of the book, the funeral is interrupted by three fighting dogs which “squealing, barking, howling dementedly” race across the graveyard and at last fall onto the coffin in the open grave, the ceremony can only go on when an uncle dumps a bucket of water on them. Part One is set in New York, Bronx, Moshulu College, where Nikolas Marcus Kraven, PhD, has been a professor of Renaissance drama focussing on Shakespeare (just like the author, btw) for twenty years. All the stock characters and subjects of a campus novel are there: scientists thinking they can rock the world of Academia when they research ‘The Babylonian Captivity and Proto-Protestantism: A reassessment’, ‘The European Market for Levantine Manuscripts, 1300-1450’ etc., blabla. Then there are the unruly students, it’s the decade of revolutionary upheaval and fights against the establishment, the militant pacifists and the uninhibited, sexually liberated, clever girls who offer their profs anything, everything, for a higher grade and cry “sexual harassment” when they’re refused, and then there’s Pro
fessor Kraven, middle-aged, not unintelligent, naïve, foolish, randy. He’s found his place and role, or so he thinks. “By now he had transformed his career into theatre, a private entertainment in which he starred, and thus he coped with his uncertain times.” He finds his sex-life with his neighbour Stella fulfilling. “Now in her mid-forties, winter’s ragged hand had not defaced in Stella her loveliness.” She lives with her husband, Robert Poor-Moody, a “stocky pouter-pigeon of a man in his mid-sixties, a dead ringer for the late Mussolini. Who would have suspected that those thick short fingers, heavily matted with hair, were capable of the most exquisite petit point? And yet such was the case.” Their encounters (every Thursday) could go on forever if not . . . We’re drawn into Kraven’s life in the week when all hell breaks loose. Poor-Moody leaves his wife after discovering her affair with Kraven and announces to enter a convent when in truth he’s become the sugar daddy of an ecdysiast (striptease artist) who he accompanies to London / A student accuses Kraven of hanky-panky / A 70-year-old visiting professor (her next stay will be London) seduces Kraven / Another professor is expected, the only one who knows that Kraven’s a fraud / Instead of flying to Los Angeles where he’s expected to deliver a speech Kraven flies to London due to a misdirected ticket . . . I’ll leave you here. Part Two is set in London where Kraven tries to bring some order into his life which isn’t so easy as further catastrophes occur. Don’t think I’ve given much away, not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what’s waiting there for the protagonist. Talk of a twisted plot! The whole novel is very fast-paced, the ending, though, set in Harrogate where Kraven (and Isler) lived as a boy during WW2, is calm and reflective.
Although I’ve already bought Isler’s fourth book, I haven’t dared read I yet, then there’d be only one left. And then what? Cold Turkey? Please, someone tell Mr Isler to go on writing! Do I recommend the book? I do, I do, I do. This is the end of the book review. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Appendix I Kraven is fed up with literary criticism, when we meet him, he only ever writes light, erotic poems on Stella which he collects under the title ‘Tickety-Boo’ . In case any readers are into writing poetry themselves, they may find some inspiration in the following excerpt: . . . Why points thou at the clock, thou timid mouse? A fig I give thee for thy wretched spouse! Remove thy panties, leap into the bed, Forget this once that thou art elsewhere wed. Thou art my love! There can be nought amiss If thou and I once more achieve our bliss. Alas, alas, our pleasure thou wouldst mar, Why put’st thou on thy breast-conceiling bra? What’s this? Thy pantyhose? O, evil chance That I should be tormented with thy dance . . . Appendix II Not your preferred style? In contrast to mediocre authors Isler is capable of giving his various fictitious characters different voices, Versatility is his middle name! Listen in: “You an English prof, and like that?” “Indeed I am.” “So I guess you know all about po-tree, right?” “Try me, my dear, just try me. Ask me anything from Homer and Vergil to Eliot and Molesworth. Test me on pastoral, Petrarch, ploce, or prosody- If it’s poetry you’re after, Kraven’s the name.” “O wow!” she said. “Gee, you really talk funny, like weird, y’know.” Appendix III I like weird.