Thursday, August 5, 2010

Riotous Assembly - Tom Sharpe

1971; 249 pages. Genre : Fiction; Satire. New Author? : Yes. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
"I have just murdered my Zulu cook." With that simple, unambiguous statement, Miss Hazelstone of Jacaranda Park initiates an incredible and zany chain of events that will see 21¼ human fatalities (not to mention a couple animals), a bush that thinks it's Rambo, an obsessed Doberman named Toby, a full-scale police assault, a death sentence with a hanging, and a rubber fetish seduction session. Let mayhem run rampant!
What's To Like...
Riotous Assembly is a clever and unlikely pairing of slapstick comedy with the horrors and brutality of South African apartheid. The Piemburg police come off as Keystone Kops, but you also get a chilling glimpse into how the minds of the white ruling class worked, with their de-humanizing attitudes towards the blacks. Sharpe also enlightens you about some of the hate-inspired laws used in that era - the Immorality Act, the Terrorism Act, and last but not least, the Riotous Assembly Act.
The humor is laugh-out-loud funny. The action is non-stop. The characters, if not terribly deep, are fun to follow, even the bad guys. There is some cussing, some killing and violence, and some "adult situations". But thankfully, no romance.
Kewl New Words...
Faience : a moderate to strong greenish blue color. Durbah : a court of a native ruler. Indaba : a council of indigenous people of Southern Africa called to discuss some important matter. Antimacassar : a protective cloth covering for the backs of chairs and sofas. Perspicacity : shrewd discernment, perception, or understanding. Impetigo : a highly contagious bacterial skin infection. Catarrh : inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose and throat. Abattoir : a slaughterhouse.
...Luitenant Verkramp's efforts to find any saboteurs or Communists in Piemburg to try the (Electrical Therapy Machine) gadget out on had failed so hopelessly that Els had finally had to arrest a native boy he had caught early one morning with a bottle of milk in his hand. The fact that Els knew him to be the milk delivery boy hadn't prevented the Konstabel proving the efficacy of electric shock therapy and after five minutes treatment the boy readily confessed that he had stolen the milk, while after ten minutes he admitted administering poisoned milk to fifty European households that very morning. When Els proposed transferring the terminal from the boy's toe to his penis, the suspect admitted to being a member of the Communist Party and agreed that he had been trained in milk sabotage in Peking. (pg. 9-10)
"You say here," continued the Kommandant, tapping the report, "that the Hazelstones are noted for their left-wing and communistic leanings. I would like to know what made you say that."
"Everybody knows they are Marxists," said Verkramp.
"I don't," said the Kommandant, "and I would like to know why you do."
"Well, for one thing Miss Hazlestone's nephew is at the university."
"Doesn't make him a Commie."
"He believes in evolution." (pg. 154-155)
"I believe it had a pedigree," the Bishop told them.
"What's a pedigree?" Els asked.
"A family tree," said the Bishop, wondering if killing the dog was going to be added to the list of crimes he was supposed to have committed.
"Fussy sort of dog, having a family tree," Els said to the warder, "you'd think it would pee against lamp-posts like any other dogs." (pg. 164)
Entropy made man (pg. 176)
Tom Sharpe is an English author, born in 1928. He emigrated to South Africa in 1951 to teach and do social work; and managed to get himself deported for sedition in 1961. Riotous Assembly was his first novel, and gives you a good idea why the white South African government kicked him out.
Combining witty satire with ugly racism seems to be an ill-advised strategy, but it works beautifully here. If you want to be amused and educated at the same time, this is the book for you. 9 Stars.


Julie said...

Great line in your review: Let mayhem run rampant!
This book does sound interesting!

Hamilcar Barca said...

a while back, i read a review somewhere where he was proclaimed to be one of the funniest present-day British writers. i was a bit leery, since i had never heard of him.

turns out, that blogger was right.