Books: Spongiform delights
An African bushman in England falls for a bishop's daughter's bottom. Christopher Hawtree looks on; Darkest England by Christopher Hope Macmillan, pounds 15.99
Saturday 30 March 1996
This time, in Darkest England, Hope's fabular vein is again opened up, only to give us the bloodless fantasy of the odyssey made by the present- day descendant of the African Bushmen visited by such explorers as Park and Livingstone. Our man is called David Booi - go on, say it, whatever the risk of wary glances from those within earshot (the singer's enthusiasm for African art is well known, but Hope's choice of this name is surprising in somebody who has collaborated with Yehudi Menuhin).
Much of what follows is on the punning plane of invention. Booi is in thrall to the Britain of Empire and, a century on, takes literally the promise made by Queen Victoria to support all her subjects. He is here on a mission to discover whether England will be, in its turn, a suitable home for his people. All this is told in style which falls somewhere between 19th-century elaboration and contemporary demotic, neither of which springs naturally from his lips.
Such wide-eyed naivety, some way after Candide, takes him via the prison which he believes to have been indeed Her Majesty's Pleasure, and then on to - oh dear - Little Musing and a certain fundamental obsession with the daughter of a bishop. ``That magnificent plateau, that great fleshy magnificence of her posterior, that spongiform delight, those two fat heifers harnessed to a lovely plough... the solid, rubbery bounce of each hemisphere.'' This is hardly Nabokov or Updike and, 20 pages on, he has another attempt at metaphor as the skirt lifts on these ``magnificent buttocks. Have you ever seen two fat rain clouds, bursting with the liquid of life, bowling along the horizon, pushed by a stiff breeze which palpitates and juggles and kneads these precious containers...? Well, that is the sight I saw before me.''
Evidently, he is going to be all the more prone to trouble. Still, along the harum-scarum way of this oh-so-arch narrative there are some touches, such as his dressing to "show the English that I came of a people wealthy enough to equip a traveller in purest polyester" and his declaiming of a passport's florid inscription to a bemused airport official. He is given to rhetorical flourishes. "To live in England requires a kind of resolution that people from older, freer cultures know little about."
This gets numbing as Booi crosses an alien and displeasing land, but gains a certain force as he reaches the capital. Here he finds that, yes, Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl and does have a lot to say (and her husband chips in his twopenn'orth).
Even so, most readers should make their excuses and hasten instead to that club for exiles in Earl's Court which was the locale of Hope's excellent novel The Hottentot Room, a product of the Eighties that is serious funny.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 2 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Lynda Bellingham dead: Loose Women presenter dies after battle with colon cancer
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
X Factor 2014 results: Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala sent home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'