Brit Wits


The sun never sets on the literature of the British Empire, does it?

Last year the estate of P. G. Wodehouse gave its blessing to Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, a new installment in the beloved series, written 40 years after the author’s death. The extensive works of Kingsley Amis are being reissued in handsome paperback editions by New York Review Books—the literary equivalent of cryogenically freezing someone for a long trip to the outer space of historical significance. Grove Press is re-publishing The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy, a 1955 picaresque novel about life at Trinity College in Dublin.

The new stuff is even more fun. From Bloomsbury Press comes The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills, an irresistibly charmingly novel about London bus drivers, who are charged with keeping an equal distance between each bus along the route. “The maintenance of headway was sacrosanct. Any violation threatened to undermine an entire ideology. Hence, they feared if all the buses came at once, the walls of their citadel would tumble.”

Topping them all, in a way, New Vessel Press has published an absolutely outrageous novel called On the Run with Mary by Jonathan Barrow, in which a young English boy escapes from his boarding school and gets into all manner of sexual and scatological trouble. From page one:

Mr. Prente leaves tomorrow. The bursar raided his study and found three hundred pairs of soiled boys’ underwear in a chest under his bed. And hidden in a laundry bag, he found 12 lemonade bottles: each overflowing with boys’ urine that was still warm. Next morning these bottles were put on display in the assembly hall as a warning to all other members of the staff. Then, after the hymn, each boy filed past and those responsible had to claim their urine. I refused and was thrashed by Mr. Kille before the entire school. (Judging by the wet patch, I guessed that he had an orgasm whilst administering the punishment. Fourteen years later, when we both shared cells at Parkhurst he admitted to me that this was correct.)

Yes, now is a great time to be an old white man who scribbles about the glorious curiosities of the United Kingdom. But I suppose that has always been the case, hasn’t it?

Brian Hurley is the Publisher at Fiction Advocate and an executive editor at a book publishing start-up in the Bay Area. He used to be the Books Editor at The Rumpus and the linguistics editor at Oxford University Press. His writing has appeared in The Millions, Full Stop, and Electric Literature. More from this author →