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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Rancid Pansies

James Hamilton-Paterson

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To purchase Rancid Pansies

Title: Rancid Pansies
Author: James Hamilton-Paterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 279 pages
Availability: Rancid Pansies - US
Rancid Pansies - UK
Rancid Pansies - Canada
Rancid Pansies - India
Heilige der Trümmer - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : rather aimless, but good writing and good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 16/2/2010 Hartmut Kasper
The Independent . 25/7/2008 Richard Canning
Independent on Sunday A 3/8/2008 James Urquhart
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/2/2009 Alison McCulloch
Sunday Times B+ 24/8/2008 Tom Deveson
Sydney Morning Herald . 26/9/2008 Helen Elliott
The Telegraph . 6/8/2008 Jane Shilling

  Review Consensus:

  Still amused by the character and approach

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are strong echoes of Waugh and Wodehouse in the comedy. But Samper's reactionary take on all manner of topics, as well as his capacity to make a very little knowledge or human understanding go a long, long way, makes these books very much au courant." - Richard Canning, The Independent

  • "Despite its triumphant libretto, this perky plot remains entirely subservient to the brilliant, self-confident voice of its vainglorious hero. Witty, defiant and blind to his own vulnerabilities, Samper engages in close combat with verbal stilettos and a killing turn of phrase (...). He is a hugely joyous creation who -- given his craving for limelight -- might, I hope, return again to share more Prosecco, guerrilla cuisine and venomous prejudices." - James Urquhart, Independent on Sunday

  • "Getting to know Samper is what Hamilton-Patersonís Samper novels are all about, leaving plot as the stage on which to display our heroís brilliant wares. And they are brilliant." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Many outrageous things happen, most of them funny. It's not all as sharp as it might be. (...) Usually, however, the tone is bracing. The topics may be unoriginal but the inventive and unforgiving irascibility with which they're pursued keeps our minds alert and amused." - Tom Deveson, Sunday Times

  • "In Rancid Pansies Samper prances through the pages as absurdly as expected but he's a deeper, more explored version of the prat in Cooking With Fernet Branca. Against any better instincts, you find you sympathise with him and wish him well despite feeling sick with laughter. (...) The entire thing is barking." - Helen Elliott, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "If you like your comedy melancholy, heavily anagrammatical and with an ominous queasy tinge, Rancid Pansies is the book for you." - Jane Shilling, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Rancid Pansies is the third installment of the tales of Gerald Samper, and begins pretty much where Amazing Disgrace left off, with his narrow escape after his Tuscan house essentially toppled off a cliff. He's recuperating back in his native England, in the house of Max Christ, the brother-in-law of his significant other, Adrian, and the novel follows Samper's adventures there and then also back in Italy, chapters narrated by Samper alternating with e-mails Adrian sends to a former student of his (which fill in some additional details and allow for a bit of fast-forwarding of the story).
       Samper doesn't mourn the loss of his house all too much, but he's not finding England all too homey and is rather eager to leave it. But things start off well when he comes into a good bit of money when the movie rights for the last book he ghosted are sold. Unfortunately, Samper believes he is more than a mere ghostwriter -- but when he tries his hand at other things (say, cooking ...) things tend not to go quite so well.
       Returning to Italy Samper finds the site where his house used to stand is now a shrine to Princess Diana -- the story (one that Samper is willing, for the right price, to sign onto) being that a vision of her saved Samper and his fellow revelers that fateful day. Princess Di rather haunts the book (and Samper) -- and the site will yield more supporting evidence that she has blessed it (miracles do happen ...). Samper even decides to use her as inspiration for the great project he's long been meaning to undertake: write an opera. Its working title is 'Rancid Pansies' -- an anagram of 'Princess Diana', and not the only one word-playing Samper comes up with over the course of his tale -- and, as Samper explains:

It's about this numbskull yearning to invent religious heroes to stuff the remaining chinks of life not filled by soap opera. It's about myth and glam. It's about credulousness.
       He even collaborates with his dubious (and inescapable) neighbor, Marta, whom he hires to compose the score to his libretto.
       Only bits and pieces of the opera are revealed -- and unfortunately:
I'm afraid I daren't divulge the two arias I have written for her and Charles when their respective extramarital affairs become revealed via eavesdropped conversations. I'm pinning great hopes on these "Squidgy" and "Tampax" scenas and it would be a shame to spoil their effect by giving the game away in advance. Suffice it to say they employ a device that as far as I know is novel in opera although not in gynaecology.
       (Hearing a run-through, Adrian opines these arias come off as "sensationally strange".)
       At least we do get a some verses of the ballad 'Dilated Wench Inn' (as the anagram of the Elton John song becomes), with the touching chorus which begins:
And it seems to me your life was like
A condom in a gale
Puffed rigid by publicity's wind
And shrivelling when it failed
       Things go surprisingly well for Samper (and even his opera) -- though never without some disastrous and unpleasant missteps along the way.
       There's not all too much to the story, but Rancid Pansies ambles along pleasantly enough. The real pleasure of the read is in having Samper leading the way, his carefully phrased and clever (and opinionated) expressions sustained for almost the entire book . "It's no fun being an aesthete; one's sensibilities are constantly being outraged", he complains at one point, and that's a source of much of the fun, as he always shares his outrage. With his sensibilities that tend towards the outré -- he's thrilled by stem cell research because he sees it: "heralding a glorious new era of autophagy" -- and his unusual circle of acquaintances there's a good deal here that's entertainingly outlandish too.
       There's a bit of social criticism here, but on the whole Rancid Pansies is largely entertainment for entertainment's sake -- and it delivers quite well. If Hamilton-Paterson does occasionally resort to the puerile -- gorilla costumes and projectile vomiting, for example -- Rancid Pansies is nevertheless a most enjoyable and occasionally very funny read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 April 2011

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Rancid Pansies: Reviews: James Hamilton-Paterson: Other books by James Hamilton-Paterson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author James Hamilton-Paterson was born in 1941. He lives in Austria.

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© 2011 the complete review

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