B+ : good fun, great voice Amazing Disgrace
continues the story of professional ghostwriter Gerald Samper from Cooking with Fernet Branca
. He's still living in his out-of-the-way Italian home and while neighbour Marta seems to have disappeared for good when things pick up, that's only one less irritant for Gerald, who seems to be drawn to irritation like moths to a flame (and with similar results). He is still ghostwriting -- the most recent project being the memoir of a one-armed grandmother who has set all sorts of sailing records -- as ghastly a person as all of Gerald's pop-culture subjects are. And, yes, he is also still cooking as creatively as ever: the book begins with the vindaloo blancmage ("an intriguing marriage of the incandescent and the gelid") he had for lunch sitting about as well as one would imagine.
One-armed Millie Cleat's memoir needs a few last touches -- she's discovered her spiritual side -- and as usual Gerald is displeased that, soon to reach a milestone birthday (forty, he claims at first, but as someone points out: "I always thought you came on a bit world-weary for a stripling of forty"), he's still writing about sporting heroes (and specifically writing the nonsense he has to about them): My books are nothing but cunningly crafted lies, yet avoid being honest fiction. Unfortunately, he seems quite good at it, and Millie's spiritual awakening probably demands yet another book -- but here at least the reward may be great enough to free him from the horrible ghostwriting business once and for all.
Meanwhile, Gerald has also been experimenting with a course of exotic male enhancement pills which, somewhat to his surprise, seem to have the desired effect -- though, of course, as it turns out not quite
in the way he hoped for. (When he eventually consults a doctor he explains that he was "asked to look into it for one of the Sunday magazines" -- whereupon the doctor notes: "I've had several writers come in here and give much the same account. Odd how I never seem to see any of their articles in print. No doubt I read the wrong newspapers.")
Yes, Gerald is in for quite a bit of disgrace and embarrassment, managing everything from locking himself inside his absent neighbour's house (while helpfully trying to change the locks on the doors) to several instances of inappropriately relieving himself. But he owns up to everything (to the reader at least; some of his acquaintances are not given the full or accurate story). And, except for the sales of his horrible books, most things only go about as right as his recipes (i.e. not very -- 'badger Wellington may sound promising, but ...). By the end he's lost even his secluded abode (in quite spectacular but fairly typical fashion).
The pleasure of this novel -- as of Cooking with Fernet Branca
-- is in the singular voice of the narrator: refined, trying to appear insouciant, and hapless -- all misguided attitude. Looking down upon almost all around him Gerald is also dreadfully dependent on them all, seeking company and approval, trying to keep up a certain image; needless to say, the laugh is often on him. Gerald enjoys playing games, yet is always precariously close to his victims seeing through him -- except that they're almost all such a dull and self-centred lot that they manage to remain oblivious even to the most obvious. And there is a heart there -- he even falls into so-often cursed neighbour Marta's arms when she reappears on the scene.
All of Amazing Disgrace
is funny, and some of it is very funny indeed. Hamilton-Paterson has the voice and attitude down perfectly, making for a great comic figure in Gerald (and one who associates with quite the cast of characters). It is, it must be said, all a bit flimsy too -- the joy is in the telling, while the tale itself is rather simple (though admittedly with quite a few good piece of invention). But it's fine comedy, a good piece of entertainment.
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