Sharpe Witted

I was bookish as a child and read some of the Tom Sharpe novels that were in my Dad’s little library many years ago. I’m sure I read this one too, but it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten it if I did.

They’re pretty funny. You can see how Terry Pratchett was influenced by him, the satire, the repressed characters and their internal monologues. He beautifully describes the passive aggressive way with which British people of a certain class communicate with each other; the damning insults wrapped in apparent politeness that still persists in modern Britain. As someone who didn’t grow up in that culture I’ll never get used to it but it’s nice to be able to laugh at it here.

Tom Sharpe’s use of English can be profound as well as comical. Through the character of Skullion he describes the quintessential English gentleman as ‘not what they were, but what they ought to be, like some battle standard that you followed because it was a symbol of the best. A ragged, tattered piece of cloth that stood for something and gave you confidence and something to fight for“. I love that.

Then there are more comedic lines like this one discussing the academic record of the college.. “they had steered Porterhouse away from the academic temptations to which all other Cambridge colleges had succumbed and had preserved that integrity of ignorance which gave Porterhouse men the confidence to deal with life’s complexities which men with more educated sensibilities so obviously lacked“. Beautiful.

If you haven’t read his work before I’d recommend it.