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When Reginald Iolanthe Perrin set out for work on the Thursday morning, he had no intention of calling his mother-in-law a hippopotamus.

Thus begins one of the funnier novels ever written, which spawned a classic British sitcom and a recent remake. Published smack-dab in the middle of the godawful 1970's, its hero has come to loathe his job selling exotic ices for Sunshine Desserts, is bored by his wife and family, envies the ethos of free love that suddenly permeates the culture, and finds modern life to be generally absurd. He, in turn, starts engaging in absurdity just to see if anyone will call him on it, from speaking nonsensically to just filling in the daily crossword puzzle with his own thoughts to an inept attempt at an affair with the secretary whose bony knees and magnificent breasts have long driven him to distraction. Finally, he gives a drunken speech at a corporate affair in which he makes the unforgivable mistake of speaking perfect sense about the triviality of the work they do when considered in wider context. In the wake of this fiasco he first releases a torrent of loganberry essence into the stream where his boss is fishing with various guests and then fakes his own death.

That plot description may not sound like a laugh a minute, but David Nobbs tells his story with a quintessentially British dry wit. If you look up droll in the dictionary they may as well use this book as their example.

Or, you may be thinking that this sounds like just another of those books whingeing about traditional middle class life, a staple of both fiction and non-fiction from the 1950s through the 1970s, until we all grew nostalgic for the decent way of life we'd been trying to destroy for thirty years. But that's the real comic genius here. For Reggie has no sooner walked (naked) away from his old life than he starts reinserting himself into it--in disguise. By the end of the book he has--under an assumed identity--agreed to marry the "widow" Perrin and to go to work for his old boss. His daughter, to whom he's revealed himself, is horrified by her parents impending nuptials and decides she has to tell her mother the truth. But Elizabeth Perrin is well aware of what's going on and couldn't be happier:
"I think it's going to work out very well with Martin Wellbourne," said Elizabeth.

"But it's a lie," said Linda.

"Yes, it's rather fun, isn't it?," said Elizabeth.

"But, mother...." [...]

"I don't want any more "but mothers". Our marriage wasn't working all that well. Now it is going to work."
And the reader is pretty certain that Elizabeth Perrin is right. What Reggie needed was just a frisson of silliness and excitement to take the humdrum edge off of his existence and that conservative lifestyle seems pretty inviting after all. In that sense, the American title of the book, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, is more accurate than the British, The Death of Reginald Perrin. For Reginald Perrin falls away from himself but then rises back to end up pretty nearly where he'd started. All that's really changed is that he, and his wife, understand the goodness of that life better, no matter how absurd it is.


Grade: (A+)


David Nobbs Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: David Nobbs
    -FILMOGRAPHY: David Nobbs (IMDB)
    -INFO: The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976) (IMDB)
    -Reggie Online: The OFFICIAL Reginald Perrin web site
    -BBC ARCHIVES: The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC)
    -ESSAY: I didn't get where I am today by... disappearing: There is something oddly male about wanting to 'Do a Reggie', says Perrin's creator (David Nobbs, 12/09/07, Independent)
    -ESSAY: Writing sitcom (Richard Herring and David Nobbs, 9/22/08, The Guardian)
-INTERVIEW: Reggie Perrin returns: interview with creator David Nobbs (David Thair, 24 April 2009, BBC)
    -INTERVIEW: David Nobbs interview: Resurrection man: DAVID Nobbs tells Aidan Smith why he was happy to help bring his Seventies favourite Reggie Perrin back from the dead, but draws the line at the return of CJ's farting chair (Aidan Smith, 19 April 2009, The Scotsman)
    -INTERVIEW: The 5-Minute Interview: David Nobbs, Comedy writer: 'I go for a haircut and people expect me to crack jokes' (Independent, 9 August 2007)
    -INTERVIEW: Jared Wilson talks to David Nobbs, author of the seminal Reginald Perrin books and TV series. (Jared Wilson, LeftLion)
    -AUDIO PROFILE: The rise and rise of David Nobbs... and a new life for Reginald Perrin (Sheena Hastings, 2/04/09, Yorkshire Post)
    -INTERVIEW: Class act: The teacher who inspired... David Nobbs ()Interview by Kenrick Hickson, 20 Oct 2004, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: Conversations: David Nobbs (Jonathan Coe, The Idler)
    -PROFILE: 'I didn't get where I am today by missing a sequel,' says Perrin creator: 'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin' was a massive success for writer David Nobbs in the 1970s. He explains why it is back from the dead (Independent, 18 January 2009)
    -ESSAY: Reggie Perrin, still a hero 30 years on: As with this great character, people are still bored and yearn for change (Terence Blacker, 21 April 2009, Independent)
    -ESSAY: The strange afterlife of Reginald Perrin (Mark Lawson, 1/15/09, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Egg on faces at the Guardian as they miss out Reggie Perrin from their list of all time great speeches (Labour Humanist, April 2007)
    -BOOK LIST: The funniest books ever: 6 The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs (1975) (Esquire)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE: Going Gently by David Nobbs
    -ARCHIVES: David Nobbs (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin By David Nobbs (Bookgasm)
    -REVIEW: of Fall and Rise (Review Centre)
    -REVIEW: of Fall and Rise (Deep Black, Order of the Golden Sprout)
    -REVIEW: of Fall and Rise (Sue's Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Cupid's Dart by David Nobbs (Tom Cox, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Going Gently by David Nobbs (Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Going Gently (Nicholas Royle, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Pratt a Manager by David Nobbs (Harry Ritchie, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of I Didn't Get Where I Am Today by David Nobbs (Susan Jeffreys, Independent)

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