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England, Their England

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I was reminded of Wodehouse's Psmith in the City, where the viewpoint character visits Wodehouse's old school (which is not the character's old school).

The joy found in reading this book is heartfelt and merits being kept on hand for the gloomy time when one needs a lift of spirit, well done MacDonell. The main misgiving is that this is generally just an asortment of set pieces between various bars, cricket pitches and periodicals, with Donald a fairly passive observer. The ending seemed terribly abrupt, as if the author desperately wanted to finish somehow or another.

It closes with a sentimental chapter set at Winchester, where the author (but not his character) went to school, in which one of the boys (or "men," as they're known at Winchester; this particular man is about 12 years old) explains that a piece of terminology used at the school is based on something that used to happen "until quite recently," and when pressed clarifies that by this he means 70 or 80 years ago. Genuinely witty in its observations and phrasing, with hilarious set-pieces and mostly affectionate portraits of a dozen varieties of eccentricity and oddness, this is a book for fans of Wodehouse and Jerome K. I first came across the book in the 1950's, and still enjoyed the easy humour, and will probably read it again. Of these, I'm afraid I didn't find the cricket match nearly as funny as it's cracked up to be, but the comments on, for example, schools of novelists or the pretentiousness of modern theatre were much more amusing. The independent-minded quarterly magazine that combines good looks, good writing and a personal approach.

But very, very much 'of its time' (quite entertainingly racist at points), dated and just, well, tiresome. I do think the English would enjoy this more than I did, particularly those with a sense of pride and nostalgia for a lost Olde England.It's well known for the description of the village cricket match, and deservedly so, but there are plenty of other wonderful chapters: the country-house stay where an eccentric English friend of the hero "helps" him by ringing up and pretending to be various important people leaving messages for him with people who'll be impressed that he knows those important people, leading to conversations which poor Donald finds either incomprehensible or deeply embarrassing; the hotel fire, in which the English partygoers trapped on the roof behave with complete calm under the command of the Major-General; the fox-hunting chapter already mentioned; the episode at the League of Nations, an organization the author worked for at one time, where the English delegate gives speeches that are so careful to say nothing that they get attached to the wrong issues and nobody notices. The subtle little message of this book is that life's pleasures come from simple pleasures, family friends, etc.

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