Ripeness is All by Eric Linklater

Eric Linklater is certainly a writer who has fallen out of fashion. He was a successful novelist in the 1930s and 1940s and he fought in both World Wars, as well as in Korea.

He was introduced to me by a friend of mine, who lives in rural Brittany and spends a lot of time reading. I am glad he did so, as this books is finely crafted and very funny.

It concerns an estate left by a wealthy retired soldier, who in his will leaves it to the one of his children who has the most children, by a certain fixed date. This leads to some farcical attempts to procreate to qualify for the inheritance.

It is all set in a slightly archetypal English village, with lots of teas and old ladies. But the rather daring thing about it, given that it was published in 1935, are the unstated but clearly discernible sexual undercurrents. There are several gay characters, though their sexual preferences are never discussed in the narrative and some rich irony at the expense of the casual racism expressed about mixed-race children.

In a way, it reminds me of the tradition of innuendo, and the treatment with sympathetic irony of obvious but unsaid aspects of humanity, that underpins much British humour.

He also has a very nice, not overly literary but nonetheless erudite, style.


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