Well, here goes, I’ve got a new one but I don’t know why I bother when I could be drunk in a nineteenth hole complaining about my putter.
Real life is such a miserable affair that I thought it would be better for me (and you) to bring Farce to the rescue. I hadn’t done any novel-length farce for 50 years (Yes, darling, Papa Stan is that old). I was in my twenties and had something of a success way back then with a satire on the American right-wing. Better Dead Than Red, I called it and it won rave reviews in England, America and in translation in Germany and Italy. The Italians thought I was like Marco Twain.
Satire it was called, but I thought it was farce; doing anything for a laugh, short of farts and belches which is what the half-wit scribes use. I was surprised when I was praised for my dark humour.
At that time I was earning a crust writing a humorous column two days a week for the Guardian, a weekly piece for Punch, and book reviews every month for the New Statesman.
Melancholy used to creep into my work. I don’t think it is supposed to. You won’t find it in Wodehouse. Nor in the great Frenchman, Feydeau.
Voltaire’s Candide is the best ever, and it’s got melancholy.
Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 was the heavyweight champ of the 20th Century. Personally I’d rather read Aldous Huxley. Crome Yellow started him off in 1921. “Delightful, witty, worldly and poetic” The Times called him. Brave New World (1932) was called “the greatest novel of the future ever written.” In it children are produced to order. It is an insane Utopia. In the Fertilizer Rooms the Director of Hatcheries produces Alpha, Beta, Deltas and Epsilons. I think they’re turning out modern Wimbledon lady tennis players now.
I like Huxley better when he’s being comic and poetic, as in Crome Yellow or the first part of After Many A Summer (1939) when he describes the mad people and places in Hollywood, California.
Well, my new one, Murder In Arcady, the fourth Boomer Daniels murder mystery set in the same rural New England town,
is not heavy stuff.
So what is it like?
I don’t think I really know.
I start it off with this:
Arcadian charm wrapped in a summer day luxuriated on the lakeside beaches of the cozy New England township.
Up and down the pure white lakeside sand strolled stunners with sex-stained eyes; and also waddling overgrown tourist ladies of a certain age offering massive views of flesh, some of which was even faraway New Jersey backsides. “Bebop a Lulu you’re my baby.” A radio sang the antique love song. And the air was so wonderful in North Holford that nobody died unless they were murdered.
That’s the way it starts and that is the way I wanted to go on. The critics will shout: “Roll over Voltaire, tell Wodehouse the news.”
I kept it down to 37,000 words – not a shilling shocker but a threepenny novella.
Farce is always full of character who could not really be real – that is the charm of it.
In Murder In Arcady I’ve got Miss Prudence Appleseed, who looked like a chicken who was for some reason wearing a wig. She’s written a saucy novel called Satan with an Ice Cream Cone.
There is her twin sister, Patience, who is writing a history of the 119 species of Connecticut butterflies.
Also a gunman called Sweeney; a crook clergyman, the Rev Chuck of the Holy Astrology Church of Divine Guidance; billionaire Alonzo the Arch Dude Stagg; sexy Savannah Moon, writer of dime novels; Hapless Jones, a journo; Shotgun Logan, Chief of the Nonotuck tribe; his granddaughter, Tula Salome, a beautiful Native American princess. Plus Boomer Daniels, the police chief, his sidekick crazy Sgt Davy Shea; and amorous Dr Phyllis Skypeck, the police doctor.
What I am doing with characters like that, with French Canucks, Bog Irish, Italians and Red Indians, is giving the folks a real New England which is something the late John Updike never did. Ditto the later John Cheever with his Yankee paradise. In other words, farce or no farce, I am truer to life than them guys, as Davy Shea would say.