11/09/2006

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (by David Nobbs)

'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin' is apparently the first novel by David Nobbs, and was originally entitled 'The Death of Reginald Perrin'. Perhaps that title was too sombre for what is, technically, a humorous novel. I'm not sure where we acquired it, but I'm quite sure I've never read it before, and wasn't entirely sure what to expect.

I thought the first sentence was brilliant:

When Reginald Iolanthe Perrin set out for work on the Thursday morning, he had no intention of calling his mother-in-law a hippopotamus.

Alas, the rest of the book didn't live up to the opening. The plot is, basically, built around the character of Reggie Perrin, a man in his mid-forties who is undergoing some kind of stress-related identity or mid-life crisis. And although Reggie's character is well developed, the rest of his family are much more shadowy. His wife Elizabeth is long-suffering and patient, without a flaw (or so it seems). His son Mark is an impoverished actor, his daughter Linda a trendy (for the 1970s) married woman with an unbelievably boring husband and two rather unpleasant children. There are a few other characters who pop into the novel in unmemorable ways, for the most part.

Reggie works for a rather caricatured dessert manufacturing company, with an unbelievably stereotyped boss and a secretary who is so typecast she's irritating. And there's the problem, really: the people could have been amusing, had they been slightly less caricatured. But they felt like comic strips, somewhat less believable than Charlie Brown and his friends.

Having said all that, it was quite a readable book. There were a few genuinely amusing moments, and I was interested to find out what would happen, in a strangely fascinated kind of way, so I kept going. Indeed, I read it in just three days; it certainly wasn't boring or long-winded.

I gather there are some sequels to this book, but I don't have any inclination to get hold of them, although if I found one for a few pence in a charity shop, I might buy it. I knew already that there was a TV series based on this book, but have never seen it, and have no wish to do so.

Not really recommended, but for anyone who likes slightly surreal light novels, it's not a bad book. The writing style is fast-paced and I felt it was well-written, almost compulsive at times. I doubt if I'll read it again, somehow.

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