Blott on the Landscape
by Tom Sharpe
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Secker & Warburg: London, 1975

234 pages February 2011

  

The novel Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe is a fine English comedy. It feels realistic even when the situations escalate into outrageousness. The eccentric, misplaced, or merely crooked personalities blunder through their crises with often risque mutual attraction and repulsion. The action is fast, the plot tight, and the deceptively straightforward style well laced with wit.
  

The plot is set in motion by Sir Giles Lynchwood, Member of Parliament, wanting to sell off Handyman Hall, his country house with extensive grounds; but it has been in his wife's family for centuries and Lady Maud won't part with it. He floats a scheme to have a regional highway built through the neighborhood, necessitating the house being demolished, with a substantial cash buyout — which (because of marriage-settlement details) will come to him. This new highway will wreck scenic Cleene Gorge as well as several nice homes, and the taxpayers will be billed for a road that no one needed, but Lynchwood will be able to liquidate the Hall.

Our title character, Blott, began life in England as an Italian prisoner of war, and stayed on working at the estate after the war was over. He wasn't Italian anyway, and his version of English country life as gardener and adaptable man-of-all-work suited him fine. But as the threat of destruction of the Hall and his way of life looms, Blott is caught up in the defense of the estate.

There is a sequence of campaigns involving the locals as well as officials of local authority and in London. Personal and romantic means, legal and illegal, procedural and armed: all have their place eventually in a glorious tangle. The landscape and the nearby towns are nicely shown, old homes and tavern and court and village High Street all caught up in this little environmental war, with Blott as it were active in the center of the landscape.
  

Here's a bit from the opening description of the Hall and Lady Maud's family, to give the flavor:

Maud was a Handyman and Handyman Hall had always been her family home. A vast rambling building with twenty bedrooms, a ballroom with a sprung floor, a plumbing system that held fascinations for industrial archaeologists but which kept Sir Giles awake at night ... Handyman Hall had been built in 1899 to make manifest in bricks, mortar and the more hideous furnishings of the period the fact that the Handyman family had arrived. Theirs had been a brief social season. Edward the Seventh had twice paid visits to the house, on each occasion seducing Mrs Handyman in the mistaken belief that she was a chambermaid (a result of the diffidence which left her speechless in the presence of Royalty). In recompense for this royal gaffe, and for services rendered, her husband Bulstrode was raised to the Peerage. From that brief moment of social acceptance the Handymans had sunk to their present obscurity.
  

Blott on the Landscape, like Tom Sharpe's works generally, is not for young or tender sensibilities. There is skullduggery of an adult nature. The psychological and legal maneuverings escalate hilariously, and Sharpe is capable of considerable mayhem as the "normal" procedures spiral out of control. A very funny novel.

  

© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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