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The Great Pursuit (1977)

de Tom Sharpe

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629628,051 (3.54)2
"A totally filthy novel to put the literary world in spasms but sure to make a shameful pile of money in America. Frensic, a literary agent with a nose for a bestseller (as well as port and snuff), places this hot property with Hutchmeyer - who is the least respected publisher in the world. And a gullible author is despatched across the Atlantic for a chaotic publicity tour."… (mais)
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There’s a hilarious skit from the Monty Python boys where Graham Chapman is wearing the peaked cap and uniform of an army Colonel from the waist up along with a ballerina’s tutu and pink leotards. The comedy is all in the contrast.

Likewise, in Tom Sharpe's 1977 novel The Great Pursuit the fun and funniness derive from stark contrasts, the disparity of opposites brought together in outrageous and ingenious ways.

The story revolves around the publishing industry, novel writing and literary theory. Like so many novelists from Henry James to Vladimir Nabokov, from Mario Vargas Llosa to John Gardner and Milan Kundera, in The Great Pursuit, Tom Sharpe likewise turns his attention to the process of writing itself.

Of course, we are taking about the king of extreme Monty Pythonesque British satire here, so all the many unexpected shifts and sudden reversals are best left to the reader to discover. Thus I’ll say nary a word about plot development; rather, here's a quartet of ingredients that makes Tom Sharpe's stinging stew delectable:

London literary agent Frensic seizes an opportunity to make a fortune by pushing a pornographic trash novel about a love and lust affair between a seventeen-year-old boy and an eighty-year-old woman a la Harold and Maude. Alack, a dilemma: the author of this piece of commercial crap doesn’t want to be identified. But the London and especially the American publisher need a writer to take a blockbuster publicity tour to launch the book which could sell copies in the millions.

Frensic knows just the man for the job - prudish, mousy, no talent novelist wannabe Peter Piper who has been slugging away for years on his own turgid, unpublishable autobiographical tome, Search for a Lost Childhood, featuring “significant relationships” and high-minded morals. Piper reluctantly agrees to go along with this charade since Frensic will have Search published after Piper's successful tour as author of pornographic Pause O Men For The Virgin.

A Tom Sharpe major spoof is on the literary theory of F.R. Leavis, an early to mid-20th century British critic proscribing harsh moral codes and proposing "The Great Tradition" of Jane Austen, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, meanwhile judging Charles Dickens, Laurence Sterne and Thomas Hardy as "mere entertainers."

And what where some of the reactions of creative writers and thinkers at the time? Poet Edith Sitwell described Leavis as "a tiresome, whining, pettyfogging little pipsqueak." Stephen Fry called him a "sanctimonious prick of only parochial significance." Meanwhile, for Peter Piper, Leavis is a god worthy of veneration. Piper's guide for writing is The Moral Novel by Sydney Louth based on Leavis' theory.

Tom Sharpe has a merry old time exposing the ways in which such moralizing and uppity intentions ring the death toll for the imagination and smother vitality both in writing and in life. One can imagine F.R. Leavis (1895-1978) wrinkling his nose and shaking his head if he ever read a Tom Sharpe novel.

Publishing houses on both sides of the Atlantic are targets for the author's lampoon-harpoons. The disregard for literary standards in favor of moneymaking is chiefly personified by an American (of course!) - Hutchmeyer, a semi-illiterate, bigmouth, blustering mogul, a sort of cross between Donald Trump and Bozo the Clown with a reputation as "the Al Capone of publishing."

One of the more rollicking parts of the novel is Piper's interactions with Hutchmeyer. "Inflame their sexual fantasies?" yelled Hutchmeyer, interrupting this quotation from The Moral Novel. "You sit there and tell me you don't hold with books that inflame their readers' sexual fantasies when you've written the filthiest book since Last Exit?"

In addition to poking a finger in the eye of America’s crude commercialism, many are the zingers hurled at the people living in the USA - an uncouth, shallow, violent, philistine, bigoted lot we are to be sure and Tom Sharpe takes no Yankee prisoners.

The cheapness and tawdriness of Americans is personified by Hutchmeyer’s wife, Baby. Baby has had every square inch of her face, chin, boobs and sundry parts of her aging body treated to plastic surgery and other rejuvenating arts. At one point Baby has to admit: “All that was gone now, the longing to be young again and the sense of knowing she was still sexually attractive. Only death remained and the certainly that when she died there would be no call for the embalmer. She had seen to that in advance.”

And Tom Sharpe’s needle even travels to the American Deep South. The Great Pursuit rivals Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit in performing a literary scorching of the land of Dixie.

The Great Pursuit doesn't possess the blistering mockery of his two earlier novels about the South African police force, Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, probably because the publishing world does have some people with brains as opposed to the nitwit police he portrays.

But still, The Great Pursuit makes for a lively, laugh-out-loud read. And you certainly will not want to miss Piper's catastrophe when interviewed for British television or Piper being attacked by Americans from groups left and right when he lands in New York City, or Piper's romance (believe it or not) with Baby.

British novelist Tom Sharpe, 1928-2013

"Listen," he said, "you try promoting a foreign writer. He's got to have a gimmick like he's won the Nobel Prize or been tortured in the Lubianka or something. Charisma. Now what's this Piper got? Nothing. So we build him up. We have ourselves a little riot, a bit of blood and all and overnight he's charismatic. And with those bandages he's going to be in every home tonight on TV. Sell a million copies on that face alone."
- Tom Sharpe, The Great Pursuit
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
I love Tom Sharpe. ( )
  Emmie217 | Jun 27, 2018 |
Frederick Frensic es un agente literario londinense de reputación intachable y un olfato infalible para los éxitos de ventas. Un buen día llega a sus manos un manuscrito insólito que contiene todos los ingredientes necesarios para encumbrar a un autor que exige permanecer en el más estricto anonimato. Tom Sahrpe está considerado como uno de los escritores más divertidos de nuestros días y esta novela así lo constata. ( )
  BibliotecaUNED | Jun 14, 2012 |
Caustic humor is a long and noble British tradition. What sets Tom Sharpe ahead of the pack is not the depth of his perversion (which is deep enough) or the sheer volume of comic mayhem that he can squeeze into two hundred pages, but that he can make you laugh out loud at the most appalling things, and keep you coming back for more.
Part of his secret is that the stories are laced with Awful Truth. It’s hard to conceive that a writer who uses penis mutilation as a recurring motif and whose characters habitually cavort in rubber rooms and sex-toy factories might have something important to say. Sharpe is driven by a deep-seated anger at the system, and it’s the anger that powers the black extremes of his humor.
The other part of his secret is harder to express in a short recommendation: because, yes, the books are charming in a sick adult sort of way, and this charm of style seldom fails even when Sharpe is describing (in his South African series Indecent Exposure and Riotous Assembly) the efforts of white Afrikaners to eliminate black Africans by raping black women, or (in The Throwback) the efforts of a young man to hang onto his inheritance by having his dead grandfather stuffed and wired for sound. Look, I don’t expect you to believe me: read the books and find out for yourselves. Reading Tom Sharpe is a test of character — try him and see if you pass. ( )
  FrederFrederson | Apr 22, 2009 |
This whole series of books never disappoints though some in the seriies are much better than others. ( )
  ChristopherTurner | Feb 16, 2009 |
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When anyone asked Frensic why he took snuff, he replied that it was because by rights he should have lived in the eighteenth century.
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Around him on the table were the tools of his trade ... a tray of fountain pens and a bottle of partially evaporated black ink. The latter was Piper's own invention. Since he was writing for posterity it was essential that what he wrote should last indefinitely and without fading. For a while he had imitated Kipling in the use of Indian ink but it tended to clog his en and to dry before he could even write one word. The accidental discovery that a bottle of Waterman's Midnight Black left open in a dry room acquired a density surpassing Indian ink while still remaining sufficiently fluid to enable him to write an entire sentence without recourse to his handkerchief had led to his use of evaporated ink. It gleamed on the page with a patina that gave substance to his words, and to ensure that his work had infinite longevity he bought leather-bound ledgers.
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"A totally filthy novel to put the literary world in spasms but sure to make a shameful pile of money in America. Frensic, a literary agent with a nose for a bestseller (as well as port and snuff), places this hot property with Hutchmeyer - who is the least respected publisher in the world. And a gullible author is despatched across the Atlantic for a chaotic publicity tour."

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