Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Collounsbury, Edward Underscore, PG Wodehouse MASH!

After that lurid title, I'd better do some explaining.

I just discovered the mystery-thrillers of Kyril Bonfiglioli, specifically the first volume in his series, Don't Point That Thing At Me (1972). The "hero" of the tale, Charlie Mortdecai, is an amoral art dealer (with occasional shady dealings in thieving and brokering). The 2004 American reprint informs me that the series has become a cult classic in the UK. So late to the party!

Mortdecai has a real eye (and it looks like Bonfiglioli was seriously in the art world), so there are a few flights of almost genuine feeling about art (hence reference to Edward Underscore, also at Obsidian Wings). But the pervailing sentiment is the drone of wasted talent and the sensation of crisis brought about by the incompetency of others; this frustration with the stupidness of the world is filtered through brief and cruel sketches of the incomprehensible and irrational self-delusions of other people (hence the reference to the tetchy ruminations on North-African and Mid-Eastern business of the very-undercover Collounsbury).

And Wodehouse is clearly stated within the novel as both a stylistic and a structuring paradigm: the first-person narrator (Mortdecai) not only cites Wooster but uses Wooster's tactics of torturing high-art references as a method of self-abnegnation, even though he knows he's much smarter than Wodehouse's characters, and there's a twisted Jeeves character (Jock Strapp), who is much less threatening on the intellect-front but perhaps more interesting on the homo-erotic front.

In all, a novel that bears borrowing from the library. Quite a convergence of strands here, and the result is, I've got to agree with Julian Barnes's featured quote, "a rare mixture of wit and imaginative unpleasantness."