Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tom Sharpe 1928 - 2013. A very funny man.

RIP Tom Sharpe

It has been my pleasure to share Tom Sharpe's works this week with a great friend. I have always felt that about the most we can hope for in this life is to make a difference. Tom did.

                                                 British Author Tom Sharpe Dead At 85
Indecent Exposure is the funniest book I have ever read. An excellent review from CIAO.

Indecent Exposure, written by Tom Sharpe and published in 1972, is the sequel to his previous work, Riotous Assembly (see reviews written by myself and others). Set in the fictitious South African town of Piemburg it once again bases itself on the local police station.

If you are looking for a serious critique of an abhorrent regime of it’s time this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a no nonsense no messing jibe at an abhorrent regime using absurd humour and silly plots that will have you fighting for breath from laughter look no further.

The hapless station Kommandant, Van Heerden, though keen to uphold the Afrikaner notion of law and order in apartheid South Africa holds a fascination for all things English. Under the mistaken belief that he has been the recipient of a heart transplanted from an Englishman he has taken to reading the novels of the English author Dornford Yates, revelling in their characters and storylines of the nineteen twenties and coming to the mistaken conclusion that it mirrors real life in England. As a result he spends his off duty hours reading, wearing tweeds, attempting to play golf while coming out regularly with such words as “Spiffing”.

He also as a result exudes a new found sense of belief and arrogance, much to the annoyance of his intellectually superior second-in-command, Lieutenant Verkramp, the staunch Afrikaner. Verkramp doubles as the local chief for the internal security service and therefore wields considerable clout in the police station. However, he now finds himself and his decisions being questioned by the Kommandant, something he is not used to. He longs to be in total charge in order to pursue his ambition of eradicating communism and incidences of sexual liaisons between members of the police and black women. He himself, puritanical that he is, admires the buxom larger than life Dr von Blimenstein, the psychiatric doctor at the local mental hospital, until after taking her for a respectable night out she becomes drunk and ravages him, leading to an embarrassing scene with his neighbours.

Verkramp’s luck changes when the Kommandant meets an English lady, Mrs Heathcote-Kilcoon, at the golf club and is invited to stay at her country house with her, her husband and her various friends. The Kommandant is delighted to accept the offer and immediately makes preparations for his departure, his delight being matched by that of Verkramp’s. At last his chance has come to fulfil his ambitions.

He immediately sets to work, firstly to eradicate sexual liaisons between white officers and black women. After much trouble, after experimenting with the worst transgressors in the police station, he finds that projections of naked black women accompanied by electric shock therapy seems to work best. Simultaneously, in order to infiltrate the supposed communist cells lurking in Piemburg Verkramp activates six of his secret agents, their identities known only by themselves and Verkramp, supplying them with firearms and explosives from the police station. An agent reports linking up with subversive elements. However these subversives, unbeknown to him, are in reality the other five agents who all, in turn, also report meeting up with subversives. Things quickly get out of control, resulting in their hair brained scheme that terrorises Piemburg with exploding ostriches released from the zoo.

In the meantime the bulk of Piemburg’s upstanding and high ranking leaders and officials, including the mayor and the bishop, are hauled out of their beds in the middle of the night to undergo intense interrogation to discover their supposed communist credentials. Back at the police station, the over confident Verkramp decides to administer shock therapy to the rest of the police force all at the same time in the police station hall, despite the warnings from the infinitely saner Sergeant Breitenbach. The sergeant’s fears are realised when, after this mass treatment, all the officers “turn queer”, turning from macho tough men to queens of the campest kind.

What with the exploding ostriches and out of control agents, this is the last straw for Verkramp who has a mental relapse and is carted off to the mental institute to be dealt with by the carnal Dr von Blimenstein. The Kommandant is summoned to return to Piemburg immediately to sort out the mess of releasing the prominent citizens from custody, trying to straighten out his police force and placate their enraged wives, and trying investigate Verkramp’s role in the mayhem, despite the objections of Dr von Blimenstein who has her own plans on what to do with her beloved now under her dubious care.

This book is very hard to review adequately. It’s plot is totally absurd, politically incorrect and way over the top while simultaneously bringing to the reader’s attention the cruelty and repression of the apartheid regime in the same almost casual manner of it’s prequel, Riotous Assembly. And yet it’s so funny. The storyline, it’s narrative and the pace are so frantic it had me almost weeping with mirth. This book was written over thirty years ago and some may be offended by the stereotypical picture of gay people mincing about and touching up anything in trousers. But this is all part of Tom Sharpe’s way of sending up the white South African police force of that time.

If you are looking for a serious critique of an abhorrent regime of it’s time this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a no nonsense no messing jibe at an abhorrent regime using absurd humour and silly plots that will have you fighting for breath from laughter look no further.

The only note of caution I would make is that it would be advisable to read Riotous Assembly first. Indecent Exposure, however, is possibly the funniest book I have ever read.

Rest in peace Tom.

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