Originally published: August 2004
Author: Stephen Fry
Published by: Arrow
Length: 416 pages
Reading dates: 17-21 October 2019
The Hippopotamus was our October book pick for the Shoreham Book Club and it ended up being an interesting discussion. We chose it because we’d read a lot of books recently by female authors, and we felt we should choose a male authored book for our one male member! A few members had read more recent books by Fry including Mythos and Heroes so we choose one that was a bit older.
The story opens with Ted Wallace, a poet and drama critic who has fallen from grace. He happens to meet with his estranged god-daughter Jane in a London bar who asks him if he can visit Swafford Hall, which belongs to his old school and army buddy Michael Logan. She has been seriously ill with Leukaemia but says she is cured and that events at Swafford Hall have led to this miraculous recovery. She offers him a substantial amount of money to go and see for himself and report back to her and as Ted has just been fired from his job as a theatre critic from a newspaper, he agrees.
Ted is soon welcomed at Swafford Hall which he visits on the pretence of bonding with his 15 year old godson Davey. He along with a cast of upper class characters are invited to spend time at Swafford Hall and Ted has to do some detective work to try and ascertain if Jane’s claims are true.
I’ll be honest, for probably at least half of this book, I was really not enjoying it. Ted is a vile man – a man who has no respect for women. In fact in the first few pages he states that women would not be raped as much if they enjoyed sex more! I really disliked reading from his point of view and would have definitely given up were it not for the fact it was a book club book and that it was by Stephen Fry who I understood to be a good author. There are some disturbing under age sex scenes and around half way through there is also a graphic and shocking bestiality scene.
And then at some point, maybe about half way through it won me over! I couldn’t tell you what it was that changed…maybe I got used to Ted as a character (I think he wasn’t quite as vile later on), I started to find it amusing (not exactly funny) and the story became intriguing.
As a book club, we agreed it was maybe a more acceptable book back in the early 1990s – I think if this was written nowadays there would be uproar at some of the comments about women. If nothing else it meant we had a lively discussion and we were all generally agreed that we liked the second half more than the first and that overall we were glad to have finished. I’m not sure it is a book I would recommend – maybe try another Stephen Fry book first!
As an added bonus, Simon who chose the book, did a Hippo/Fry themed quiz for us with Fry’s chocolate as prizes. The cake below was for a members birthday – it was a great meeting! The reason I joined a book club was to read outside of my comfort zone and this book certainly ticked that box!
About the author:
Stephen John Fry is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing for stage, screen, television and radio he has contributed columns and articles for numerous newspapers and magazines, and has also written four successful novels and a series of memoirs.
Books are best read with their context in mind. Lately Mark Twain got almost blacklisted by a group of moral crusaders because his choice of words was offending their 21st century sensibilities. Elvis Presley married a fifteen year old girl and didn’t end up in jail. Till not so long time ago, homosexuality was a crime. Morals change and what was upon a time permissible behavior became punishable and what was once punishable became permissible.
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Absolutely – we had that discussion about how it was very much a book of it’s time. You’ve made some great points – thank you
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Fab review! Well done for finishing it I think I would’ve given up much earlier on!
If it hadn’t been a book club read I would have given up. I think I was determined to finish so I could moan about how bad I thought it was! But then ended up being pleasantly surprised!
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