February 20, 2004

Death of an Old Goat, by Robert Barnard

An aging Oxford professor of English is travelling across Australia, giving "guest lectures" at all of the institutes of higher learning (so called) in that country. It is the mid-1970s; he wrote the two lectures he is giving in the 1920s, when he was a young don, and has been giving them unchanged, word-for-word ever since. He is deadly dull.

And at one of his stops, a particularly back-water sort of University even for Australia, he is murdered for no discernible reason.

If you've detected a note of disdain for Australia in this review, it's simply because I'm trying to maintain the tone of the book itself, a so-called "satire" in which Australia is shown to be in every way dirtier, shabbier, and coarser than the mother country, even down to its academic politics (which, heaven knows, are pretty shabby no matter where you go).

But if, on the one hand, you've got a book that repeats all of the usual pommie slanders, then on the other the mystery is fairly lightweight.

The book is, I hasten to add, well-written--the characters are all marvelously well-drawn and very much themselves. But one doesn't like them, or the constant English snobbery, and the mystery does little to make up for it.

Oh, well.

Posted by Will Duquette at February 20, 2004 06:21 PM