Why Alan Brownjohn’s new comic novel lives up to its name
In Enjoyment, the Belsize Park-based poet's fifth novel, we get the lot
23 January, 2017 — By Piers Plowright
COMIC novels are rare these days, poetic comic novels even rarer, and poetic comic novels set in the near future rarest of all.
In Enjoyment – Belsize Park-based poet Alan Brownjohn’s fifth novel – we get the lot. It’s around 2030 in a London that seems mildly more crowded, congested, and challenging – particularly for the young – than it is now.
Gloom, however, is not allowed. Each year is designated A Great Year. Fun is compulsory, canned laughter haunts places of entertainment, and an odd collection of leading characters – youngish men and women – find solace, from their frustrations, physical and mental, in the linguistic atelier of a profoundly eccentric guru and redundant civil-servant named William Bridgnorth.
WB’s main challenge to received opinion is that we’d all be much better off if we spoke in iambic pentameters, which actually we do a lot of the time without knowing it. This idea is eagerly taken up by out-of-work and occasional kleptomaniac Frank, sexually obsessed Jake, and two glamorous young women called Anna and Merlinda.
The main pleasure of the book – and the title is amply fulfilled – is following the entanglements and disentanglements of this quartet as they descend on, and retreat from, sessions with their older and charismatic tutor.
There are some delightful excursions on the way, particularly when Jake, in the depths of winter, visits an eastern European sex clinic he’s found on the internet. He’s been diagnosed with CAD – Chronic Associative Disorder – which really means the ruin of all his sexual experiences by profoundly inappropriate thoughts and images.
But just when Jake seems to be making good progress with the help of big, bearded and broad-humoured Dr Erznik and his cinema projections, a sudden and dangerous infatuation with Melanita the hotel receptionist leads to a hasty departure and return, via the arms of Claudina, a glamorous stationmistress, to London and more iambic pentameters.
This enticing blend of farce, satire and inventive dialogue, carries the reader merrily along to the climactic Great Day Fun Parade and William Bridgnorth’s Literary Cake of Celebration trolley as they make their way towards Hyde Park.
All does not go to plan as the bland banners of the faithful – THE FRINTON FUNSTERS, DRUMMERS FROM DEVIZES, the Northampton-sponsored LAUGHING BOYS OF HISTORY, and Stoke Newington’s WE’RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE JOKE, among others – are infiltrated by the Class of 21 protesters and all erupts into chaos and violence.
Not that this fazes William B who, forced to a standstill in Piccadilly Circus, addresses the crowd in perfect pentameters beginning: “Good listening Friends, it was our former plan/To hold this ceremony in Hyde Park/With all the other proud participants/ In this event. But our one small request/To make our way there has just been declined/With no reason given…..” and ends by inviting everyone to share cake ’n’ poetry.
In the end, what gives this novel fizz is its playfulness, a quality much undervalued these days in literature, as in life. It’s a bravura performance from a writer who’s not afraid to be funny and serious at the same time. Though I rather hope his vision of the future is not fulfilled.
• Enjoyment. By Alan Brownjohn, Shoestring Press, £9.99