7 Tom Sharpe Novels That Will Put a Smile on Your Face ...

When he died in June 2013, I was incredibly sad as I knew that meant there would be no more Tom Sharpe novels. Sharpe was an English writer who has been making me laugh since I first discovered him more than 2 decades ago. He is by no means a prolific writer but I have read all his 16 books at least 3 times and some, even more. He is a master of comedic fiction. His characters are grotesque caricatures of everything about humans we humans don’t like, specific to the setting he is writing about. With settings n Apartheid South Africa, the English countryside and even America’s Deep South, the Tom Sharpe novels will take you on farcical journeys that will having you laugh out loud - a lot!

1. Porterhouse Blue

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It is often said the powers that be in England are crafted on the playing fields of Eton and honed in the hallowed halls of academia (Cambridge and Oxford universities have educated so many British Prime Ministers.) Welcome to Porterhouse! Porterhouse is an old school (very old school) Cambridge College. Here the young men are privileged and the servants, well, servile. Run by a board of fusty old fuddy-duddies who care more about the college’s showing in the rowing and eating roast swan at the annual feast than academic achievement, are shaken up when a new Master of College is appointed who is not their liking; no siree not at all! Chaos ensues as the Master tries to make his mark, turn the focus onto academic performance and tighten up the profligate wastage of college resources. And when the chaos includes exploding condoms and a disgruntled Head Porter, you stay gripped to find out who will suffer the Porterhouse Blue – a stroke caused by over-indulgence in good living, which has done for many a former Master of Porterhouse College. Porterhouse Blue is one of the Tom Sharpe novels made into a successful series by the BBC (along with the next).

2. Blott on the Landscape

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Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Lady Maud Lynchwood is scorned. Lady Maud is furious. All Lady Maud wants is an heir to continue the line to keep Handyman Hall that has been the family seat for generations. Sir Giles Lynchwood however prefers the attentions of his absent-minded mistress and hatches a dastardly plot to rid himself of Lady Maud and increase his fortune at the same time. Enter Blott. Blott is a former German prisoner of war who was never repatriated. Blott doesn’t mind. Blott lives to love Lady Maud and will do anything to please her. No time is the saying “An Englishman’s home is his castle” ever truer when the plans begin to roll to extract Lady Maud from hers. What follows is indiscriminate blastings of gorgeous scenery, man-eating lions, a humiliated troubleshooter, blackmail, death by wrecking ball, and all manner of fiendish goings on. You never imagined a sleepy corner of the English shires would witness such things.

3. Riotous Assembly

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This is the first of Tom Sharpe novels set in South Africa – a country he was deported from for sedition. This is the time of Apartheid in South Africa. In Riotous Assembly Sharpe’s abhorrence of the wretched system is abundantly clear. This is our first introduction to the bumbling Chief of Piemburg Police, Kommandant van Heerden. Although a Boer, the Kommandant wishes nothing more than to be British. The story begins with a simple case of murder. It seems. But nothing is simple when the murderer is a respected British spinster and the victim is her black cook - because in South Africa at this time, a white person could always find a justifiable reason to murder a black cook. Van Heerden faces his worst nightmares as stories of rubber fetishisms surface, a nymphomaniac therapist with strange and mad and dangerous therapies in mind enters the scene, and I won’t even begin to tell you about the stuffed Doberman. The Kommandant has to deal with scandal, and a potential full-blown catastrophe.

4. Indecent Exposure

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In the follow up to Riotous Assembly, the scenarios get even more bizarre and incredulously unbelievable as the Kommandant takes a holiday, leaving the communism-obsessed, nut job Lieutenant Verkramp in charge. While his boss is away in the country hooking up with a strange band of British colonials who see him as bait for their peculiar brand of cruelty and ridicule, Verkramp, who is not only a policeman but an agent of BOSS, the state security service, sets out to smash the ring of communist agents he believes is operating in Piemburg. Unfortunately all the agents who are under the control of Verkramp, believe each other is a communist agent and to say confusion reigns is a huge, huge understatement. And you’ll see why as Piemburg is subjected to mass sabotage, a group of exploding ostriches and a police force turned homosexual thanks to electric shock aversion therapy.

5. Wilt

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Wilt is another recurring character in the novels of Tom Sharpe – actually appearing in 5 stories. It is the only one of Tom Sharpe’s novels that has been made into a movie. Henry Wilt is the eponymous character. He is a sad man. He hates his job where he is under-rated and under-appreciated. He hates his overbearing, demanding, intellectually–challenged wife. In fact he dreams of doing away with his wife. The mundane takes an unexpected turn for the worse however, and it all revolves around an inflatable sex toy doll, a large hole, and the mysterious disappearance of his wife. Humdrum becomes farce as Wilt takes a humiliating, bizarre and chaotic course to discover the truth, dogged by tenacious Police Inspector Flint. Where has Mrs. Wilt gone?

6. Ancestral Vices

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In Ancestral Vices, Sharpe turns his acerbic wit and magnifying glass scrutiny on the lot of the titled and landed dynasties of England: families who stand on ceremony and tradition; families who present a “face” to the world while hiding more skeletons than Dracula’s pantry; families who squirm at the merest whiff of scandal; typically, families like the Petrefact Family. And here, there’s no whiff of scandal because Walden Yapp, a man hired to write the family history is the least scandalous man – ever, like ever, ever. But, what will he uncover? This is a story of not very nice characters and Sharpe has sharpened his humour to its most darkest, most satirical and most farcical. Delivered with slapstick and great insight, this is mickey taking at its best.

7. The Great Pursuit

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Another of Tom Sharpe’s novels set outside of England, The Great Pursuit takes us from seedy seaside boarding houses in the UK to the strange twilight world of the religious American Deep South complete with bible thumping evangelists and snakes. With an intricate plot built around a would-be author pretending to be an author because the author didn’t want to be acknowledged as the author of a certain work, the story is of a publicity tour that started off as improbable and ends up in inevitable farce. Sharpe’s specialities all come together in a deliciously fiendish story that is very funny – grotesque characters, crazy impossible situations, lewd jokes and surprising outcomes. The Great Pursuit is probably the most unloved of all novels by Tom Sharpe but I enjoyed the plot as it unravels lives with the speed of an express train.

If you’re looking for a new author to try, please give Tom Sharpe a go. He might be considered peculiarly English but if you want stories full of crazy characters and even crazier plots, as well as being highly entertaining, he’s your man. Have you ever read any novels by Tom Sharpe?

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