Chapman's Odyssey, By Paul Bailey
The dream life of a dying Englishman
Sunday 01 April 2012
Elderly writer Harry Chapman has been taken ill, and the painkillers are giving him weird hallucinations. Literary characters from Dickens's Pip to Melville's Bartleby materialise in his hospital ward, Fred Astaire sashays across the bedspread, and his unmourned mother returns from the grave to pour insults in his ear.
Reading Paul Bailey's compelling novel, I found myself imagining a whimsical television adaptation in the style of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, with colourful special effects and star cameos. But that would miss the point – Bailey's writing is quiet, not brash. He delicately renders Harry's slips in and out of consciousness, almost imperceptibly eliding the real and the fantastic.
Bailey's descriptions of his protagonist's lucid moments are less enjoyable, recounted as they are in a mixture of stilted prose and archaically formal dialogue ("'I should very much like you to call me Harry.' 'I think I can oblige you on that score'"). Amid all this buttoned-up Englishness, the occasional burst of profanity comes as blessed relief, like a draught of air in a stuffy room.
The book's final stages, however, are perfectly judged. As the end approaches, Harry's visions give way to memories of failed romances and professional disappointments, but also to an affirmation of his delight in language. Like his nurses, we are finally won over by his eloquence, and we too miss him when he's gone.
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 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Are you ready for Crazy Doritos, the red-hot snack food craze sweeping Mexico’s streets?
- 4 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 5 Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
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 memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' on Antiques Roadshow by Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt gives intriguing performance as unsympathetic war hero
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
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'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage