Posted by: billpurdue | December 6, 2014

Disappointing reads

It’s not often that I give up on reading a book about a third of the way through, but that’s what I did with “Cupid’s Dart” by David Nobbs. This is a great pity because I have always been a great admirer of his books, ever since the Reggie Perrin series in the 1970s and the Henry Pratt series of books from the 1980s. I even bought the hardback edition of “Second from last in the Sack Race”, the first in the Pratt series which tells of his very early life in a suburb of Sheffield in the 1930s.

 Cupids dart

I think the reason why I left off reading this book was that the subject matter just wasn’t what I wanted to read about. It’s very well written and there’s plenty of humour, though not the laugh out loud sort. It tells of a philosophy don from Oxford, 55 and a virgin, who meets a mid-twenties darts groupie Essex girl on a train. They have an affair, with all the difficulties and embarrassments associated with the difference in age, outlook and experience which you might imagine.

Much more my line, I expect, is the latest from David Nobbs: “The Second Life of Sally Mottram”, described as “a rich, moving and optimistic tale of one woman’s courage and determination, and the amazing affect this has on the struggling town, with its silted-up canal and its boarded-up pubs”. I now have a copy of that on loan from my local library and will report in a future post.


This next title was also a little disappointing, but I did read it to the end. Have you ever wondered whether the Queen is getting fed up with her role as Head of State and longs for anonymity? Well, this book “The Autobiography of the Queen”, by Emma Tennant, imagines how she would go about leaving the throne and disappearing from the headlines. With only a small suitcase of clothes and a handbag containing air tickets and some emeralds and a passport in the name of Mrs Gloria Smith (obtained for her by Brno, the footman and best forger in the business), the Queen slips away, without even telling Prince Philip, on a flight to the Caribbean.

 The Queen

The Queen, aka Mrs Smith, was expecting to take possession of a nice little bungalow in which to retreat and write her autobiography, but the bungalow turns out to be still a hole in the ground. Instead she has to stay at an upmarket hotel in the vicinity and makes friends with a young man by the name of Austin Ford, taxi driver and proprietor of a beachside bar. Meanwhile the hunt is on for the Queen.

I felt this book missed a few opportunities and occasionally stretched the credulity of the reader a little too much. There is a turning point in the narrative when the Queen realizes that she would really rather return to her life at Buckingham Palace, but I didn’t feel that the reason is clear. It also gives the impression that the Queen, outside her usual comfort zone, makes rather stupid decisions. I am sure she has much more common sense than that.

I quite enjoyed the book, but felt that something was lacking. Catherine Bennett in The Guardian has compared Emma Tennant’s book with Alan Bennett’s “An Uncommon Reader”. Of the two, I much prefer the latter.

Emma Tenant is the author of many books, including “Pemberley – or Pride and Prejudice Continued” and “The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted”, a fictional re-creation of the marriage and separation of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

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