April 26, 2012

Book: Summer’s Lease by John Mortimer

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:04 am

This is a comedy by John Mortimer, a well known British author who has written a series of books involving Rumpole and most of whose books have been serialized on BBC Television.

This story is about Molly Pergeter, a housewife in London, who goes to Tuscany, Italy to rent a villa for a few weeks’ vacation. She plans to go there with her husband Hugh, and her daughters Samantha, Henrietta and little Jacqueline. Her father, Haverford Downs, who is an old man into ribaldry and lewdness a lot, manages to gatecrash into the party using emotional blackmail. He is a writer in the local paper, and his column `Jottings’ is about to be axed by the Editor, even if he is oblivious to the fact.

Hugh, an attorney, has a mild crush on a previous client, Marcia Tobias and sees her for lunch often. Caught by his father-in-law in a mildly compromising position with Ms Tobias, he is in no position to vigorously object to Haverford joining in the party. Thus winning a moral victory, the extended family starts off for the vacation.

The castle Molly rented is called `La Felicita’ and belongs to a Buck and Sandra Kettering, and all arrangements have been made by letter. When Molly visited the castle, she found only the caretaker, Mr Fix-It, one William Fosdyke.

The family arrives into a little mystery, with Molly finding clues of marital discord. She is puzzled by explicit instructions left by the Ketterings on what kind of family should rent the castle (`Must have three daughters’) and by the sudden and inexplicable issues with water that all buildings seem to have.

She goes snooping and makes contact with neighbours – a Nancy Leadbetter, who happens to be an ex-Flame of Haverford, the huge gang of teenage school kids which include Chrissie Kettering, the daughter of the Kettering couple, a priest who befriends Haverford, the weird Prince Tosti-Castelnouvo, the old and friendly couple (the Tapscotts), the Ketterings themselves, and a lot of others.

The humour is dry and wry. The book beings with Molly, prospecting the castle for possible rent, encountering a snake on the way to the castle. Unfortunately, that is the only interesting thing that seems to happen for much of the book, until nearly the end. The attempt at mystery and humour together fails to work: it does not do justice to be a mystery novel (not enough clues, no tempo or suspense) nor it is very humorous (funny attempts to make you smile, with Haverford taking a leak in the garden and setting off an alarm is not the kind of humour that works very well).

I would even rate Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe (See Review earlier ; I was not very impressed with that either) as a far more humorous book than this. I hear that Haverford is a typical Mortimer character – risqué old men seem to be a staple of John Mortimer.

The book does pick up towards the last 15 pages but by then you are too tired to feel any elation.

Let us say a 2/10

— Krishna


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