A thirty something married man visits a family of eccentrics
The novel opens with college boy Michael receiving an invitation to a party at his friend Adam’s family estate, Egypt. There he encounters the rest of the Hanburys: grouchy contrarian patriarch Paul; first wife Vivian, fashionably blonde; dour second wife Vivian; and an eccentric pack of maladjusted children. However, at this first meeting, most of their names rush over Michael’s head and it isn’t until years later, when Michael has settled down with his own beautiful yet moody wife Rebecca, and preverbal three year old Hamish, that the two friends reconnect. Adam asks Michael to help with the lambing on Egypt for a week. Hijinks ensue, but the hijinks center around the restraints of marriage and family. The prevailing opinion of the book is thumbs down on both.
A fold of sheep is dumb; the fold of family is dumber. Each Hanbury seems unhappy, if not trapped, and it isn’t very long before the reader realizes that first person narrator Michael is trapped as well. The writing is hilarious, vivid, like PG Wodehouse, a contrapuntal masterpiece of hilarity. Each character has a tic, a lamentation and a typical page has at least one crazily inventive metaphor. Although sometimes the parade of laugh lines can seem relentless and the ultimate meaning of the book feels obscure.
This book resembles a This Country Life, but This Country Life made a certain sort of narrative sense and the end of that book contained a well plotted surprise. This end of this book is merely the end of a series of fascinating patterns. There may be, in fact, perhaps one too many characters for the reader to keep track of. I want to reread this book, not because of the depth of the theme or the imagery, but so I can figure out what’s going on. I sense that lots is going on, lots about marriages and families and how, deep down, they all hate each other.