Not Sharpe enough!

November 25, 2011

by Nimish Dubey

There are many who believe that Tom Sharpe writes the funniest books in the world today. And there is good reason for this belief. The English author has been entertaining readers for over three decades now with books that mix confusion and destruction with an amazing turn of phrase. One critic had observed that Sharpe was like PG Wodehouse with a lot of sex and violence thrown in. High praise indeed. And Sharpe has for the most part lived up to it. So when his new book, The Gropes, hit the stands, we were quick to grab a copy.

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In terms of plot, The Gropes, is very much in familiar Sharpe territory. There is an isolated family in England called the Gropes, dominated by strong (and sometimes, masculine) women who write roughshod over the wills of generally effeminate and weak-willed husbands, and sometimes even other men.

The book begins with some background of the family and it is here that Sharpe is at his witty best, combining some dazzling language with tongue in cheek digs that would horrify historians and alienate just about every feminist in the world:

“In the past, several husbands had turned out to be so infertile or incurably impotent that desperate measures had had to be taken, either the kidnapping of passing strangers or paying for the sexual services of improvident tradesmen with large families to support. More than one traveller had undergone the horrifying experience of being waylaid by a Mrs Grope dressed as a man and being forced to commit what he took to be an unnatural act before being stupefied with gin and opium and left unconscious in a ditch miles from Grope Hall.”

Anyway, to get back to the plot, the Gropes get into the modern era with the female-domination of the family just beginning to weaken and that is where the real story begins. There is a bank manager who is fed up of his son and wife;  the wife’s brother who runs a shady business and whose own wife happens to be a Grope (although he does not know it); and of course, the remnants of the proud Grope clan. Sharpe throws them all together and adds the usual liberal dose of sex, violence, alcohol, blundering policemen and confusing dialogue, lots of explosions and hopes for the best. There is lots of confusion as the bank manager’s wife thinks her husband wants to murder her son and sends him off to her brother, from where he disappears with her brother’s wife, leaving the brother drunk and devoid of cash. Meanwhile the husband runs off, trying to start a new life. His wife gets into hysterics and goes to her brother’s house only to see it in shambles…you would think it is all pretty engrossing!

Sadly, it all does not work out. In fact, The Gropes, while having its moments, never really takes off. Yes, there will almost always be an incident or phrase on every page that will make you smile but in terms of continuity, the plot is weak and seems to be a mish-mash of previous Sharpe books. The Grope family seems to owe a lot to  Ancestral Vices, the bank manager seems right out of Wilt and his wife’s fights with the police under the impression that her boy has been murdered are very similar to Eva’s predicament in The Wilt Alternative, while the wife’s brother owning a slaughterhouse is again reminiscent of Wilt in which a sausage manufacturing plant plays a major role.

And it is all held together very flimsily. Yes, it is funny, but this is not even close to the Tom Sharpe we know, who gave us watertight plots with lots of sarcasm and amazing wit. We would advise you to keep away. This is not Tom Sharpe at his best. Not even close.

The Gropes, By Tom Sharpe, Hutchinson, Rs 474

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2 Responses to Not Sharpe enough!

  1. Aeshna
    November 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Have to disagree with this review.
    I read The Gropes a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed the narrative structure, irony and wordplay. Quintessential Sharpe.
    I suppose at the end of the day both are personal opinions.

  2. November 30, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Difference of opinions are always welcome :)

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