Released: September 29, 2000
Ned Maddstone has the world at his feet. He is handsome, talented and about to go to Cambridge, after which he is expected to follow his father into politics. But an unfortunate confrontation with a boy in his school results in a prank that goes badly wrong and suddenly he’s incarcerated – without chance of release. So begins a year long process of torment and hopelessness, which will destroy his very identity, until almost nothing remains of him but this unquenchable desire for revenge.
Inspired by the Count of Monte Cristo, Fry’s psychological thriller is written with the pace, wit and shrewd insight that we have come to expect from one of our finest novelists.
I’m finding it hard to pin down this book. It seems like it is trying to be quite a few things, and while it doesn’t directly fail at being any of them, it struggles in getting there with all of them.
Firstly, the story is satirical. The characters in the book are clever, well-constructed caricatures. Some situations in the book are meant as obvious social commentary, and these are funny and well done. However, there aren’t enough of them for this to be 400 pages of satire.
Secondly, it is a thriller. Parts of the book are genuinely exciting and thrilling, and as the story twisted and threw itself up in the air, I found myself wondering how it would be brought back down to earth. It never quite was. I rarely knew where the story would go next, but eventually everything became a little too implausible for me to really care.
Lastly, a few moral points are made. Helpfully or annoyingly, take your pick, you can rely on the characters to pretty much state the points the writer wants to get across, in case you hadn’t picked them up yourself. Unfortunately, since I found myself unable to relate to anything at all happening after page 40, none of these points really made much of an impact beyond just being written down.
However, for some reason everything kind of works. I put this entirely down to Stephen Fry and his Stephen Fry’ness. This book has plenty and plenty of Stephen Fry’ness. It manages to be warm, clever and rather likeable while also being dark, violent and twisted. Ultimately, I picked this book up because it was by Stephen Fry, and I figured it couldn’t be that bad. And that’s exactly what it was. Not great, but not that bad.