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Novels set in Cumbria
A Gentleman's Relish
A Gentleman's Relish
George Geraghty, the notorious satirical cartoonist, ought to be enjoying his retirement to the wilds of North Cumbria. Instead he cannot shake off the legacy of his long dead father Bill, who spoke some fifty-five languages and had at least fifty-five mistresses. John Murray's latest wild extravaganza characteristically concerns itself with love, linguistics, familial rivalry and other contentious matters.......
Flambard Press Fiction
Be warned, the supposed writer of John Murray’s latest novel is first met leafing through the dictionary looking up words such as “Miosis, Metalepsis, Circumlocution and . . . Sarcasm.”
Gentleman’s Relish is an extravaganza of verbal felicities.
John Murray has dragged his net through the dictionary and the words tumble onto the page like sparkling fish onto the deck of a trawler.
The book is a celebration of language in all its comic infinity and a drunken, philandering, disappointed linguist is its hero.
Bill Geraghty, when he dies at 54, in Brighton, in bed, of course, with his latest mistress, can speak sixty languages – not just the ordinary everyday languages but Dravidian dialects of Indian hill tribes and forgotten tongues spoken in the lost valleys of darkest Georgia and ancient and dead languages of central Anatolia.
Not only does he relish the infinite variety of words but he teaches all his languages to the cage birds at the bottom of his Oxford garden who have been his lifetime’s passion and consolation.
His wife, Hetty, has borne his disappointment, resentment and adulteries through the years. Bill failed to gain a destined and coveted fellowship at All Souls because he spilt the prize Madeira on the carpet during his viva and now he works as a lowly proof-reader and pursues extra-marital affairs with all and sundry.
His son, George, aged 72 and equally a failure, is telling his life story. George Geraghty lives out in the wilds of the Debateable lands – we’re even given his post-code - CA6 6VZ – somewhere up between Easton and Bewcastle.
He’s hated his father from the days when he was forced to recite his German grammar at the breakfast table and rebelled against him by becoming a satirical cartoonist.
He humiliated him by bringing a drunk posse of actors home and feeding them his father’s Gentleman’s Relish, the select perquisite of All Souls fellows, and his father’s finest malts and wreaking mayhem on his father’s fine china, all within his father’s shadowy presence.
But there is also reconciliation and understanding. George comes to appreciate the extravagance of his father’s character, to see that that is what the old man was and had become. He feels an affinity with him when he recognizes that “his only truth being his cruelly thwarted talent”.
At his father’s graveside he senses something of the complex mystery of his feelings towards his father and to life itself: “I’m crying,” I hiccupped hysterically. “I know it looks like laughing but I’m crying.”
Bill comes to understand the often cruel and thoughtless eccentricities of his father; “They never actually see themselves as odd. They see themselves just as themselves. That blindness allows them to give the world some heightened colour as a result. They give it the colour of extraordinary anecdote.”
“A Gentleman’s Relish” recalls Bill Geraghty from one incident to the next. Each incident is a skilfully contrived comic exuberance when the normal possibilities of everyday life splay out into the wild and eccentric and often very funny.
Holding these sad and comic extremities of life together are the reflections of George as he looks back on his life.
His marriage has failed, his career has failed and he is a lonely old man listening to Radio Three and deriving consolation from “the epiphanies of North Cumbrian sunsets and the sweet white dust of summer on the old grey D road to Easton”.
“A Gentleman’s Relish” is a rich and pungent sauce. It may not be to everyone’s taste but such eccentric cavortings add a piquancy to the underlying failings of life - Steve Matthews, Bookcase
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