Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review | The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall

I had such great expectations from this book not only because I had just finished RSVP as recently as an hour before I picked this one up, but also because the trailer of the new movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, based on Torday's debut novel of the same name, looks bizarrely cool.

It's a simple story. Ed Hartlepool is an entitled little bugger who has spent the last five years in exile in France swimming 30 laps or so a day, while his family estate languishes under gross mismanagement, negligence and rising maintenance costs. The trustees call him back and explain to him, like they would a child, that he needs to sort it out, make a few decisions, and consider actually doing something with his day. Flummoxed, Ed returns to find himself neck deep in debt and hosting a strange Lady friend of his fathers, Lady Alice, who turned up one day and requested shelter. He begins to sort through the mess left behind by his lazy ancestors who never lifted a finger in their life, much like him, and walks around with a very 'deer in headlights' attitude while discovering that every fire continues to be lit in every room despite no one living there and his cook makes three course meals for people who don't exist, all because it has always been done that way.

Eagerly awaiting his return is childhood friend, Amanda, who is being slowly eaten at by her fathers acridity. Her only silver lining is her opportunistic real estate boyfriend who has his eyes set on turning the beautiful estate into condominiums. Supporting characters include a subservient aging butler and a jolly cook.  It's the perfect background for a great English laugh and we have a few in the beginning at the expense of Ed's bumbling and sheltered upbringing.  But soon you want him to snap out of it and grow a spine. The humor gets dry and Ed is left needing what protagonists require most, a character arc. It seems unbelievable that he could refuse to rise up to the challenge and by the middle of the book you want to slap him around. Amanda seems interesting enough and seems to take all her cues from an episode of  'Desperate Housewives' and her boyfriend is a portrayed as a stereotypical nouveau riche who lives beyond his means and would sell his mother to fund his lifestyle.

Paul Torday's writing is excellent and is splattered with a hint of Woodhouse; his eye for detail brings the old house to life so much so you want to fling the book at this unimaginative whiney protagonist. I appreciate that Hollywood and Richard Curtis have made us suckers for triumph in the face of adversity but if I wanted real life I would open the newspaper. I think Paul Toray wanted to take the veil off Wooster and his contemporaries and show them as they really are, worthless entitled sods who are out of touch in todays world, but it didn't work for me; give me the real Jeeves and Wooster any day. I am waiting for Season 3 of Downton Abbey.

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