I have no idea who recommended this book to me, but somebody did, probably about twenty years ago. It’s a period piece, and it’s really quite difficult to read or discuss in the current climate of political correctness and sensitivity. Plot synopsis: Alfred Fatigay has been sent to Africa, and returns with a pet chimp and a plan to marry his fiancée, Amy Flint. He reckons without Emily, who is dark, petite, vivacious … and a chimpanzee.
Through a range of experiences very similar in weight and tone to the much better known ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, Alfred learns to love Emily, and to marry her, but for this to happen he must eschew Amy and Emily must disappoint her own admirer, who is the chimpanzee equivalent of a toyboy.
Collier is a difficult writer on many levels – his discourse on colour, conducted through species rather than race, still sits uncomfortably with a modern audience and Emily while loving Alfred and condemning Amy for her lack of love, behaves ruthlessly to her own follower in pursuit of Alfred.
One of the interesting things about Collier is that he wrote negative reviews of his own work – an interesting, if complex and uncomfortable behaviour, analogous to this novel in that it pushes the reader to the edges of comfort in the most genteel way. He also was an uncredited writer on The African Queen and is more famous for a post-apocalyptic novel that I haven’t read, Tom’s a-Cold. Maybe I should, but I probably won’t. I’m trying to get rid of books here, not acquire more!
A keeper. I don’t like the cover and I’ve seen nicer editions, but I’m going to stick with what I’ve got here. For style, for wit, for being able to push boundaries to and beyond what Grand Guignol would allow (Alfred and Edith’s wedding night, for example) this book gets read every couple of years. I would not like to be without it.