Last week one of the greatest comedy writers of all time died. Tom Sharpe was 85 when he sadly passed away at his home in Northern Spain. A good innings, I suppose, and if the quality of one’s life is measured by the legacy then Mr Sharpe has no need to worry.
Amazingly, he only wrote 16 novels; the famous ones being Porterhouse Blue, Wilt, and Blott on the Landscape. I got into Tom Sharpe’s work when I was still a teenager and, at that age, they were one of the only books which interested me enough to not play football. He has left an indelible mark on my life.
Almost in the same vein as PG Wodehouse, Tom Sharpe had a knack of creating ridiculous characters who would become more and more extreme as the story went on, but would remain believable and plausible throughout. The farcical nature of his stories allows you to escape into his world but, watch out, you’re never quite the same once you’ve been there.
He wrote his first novel at 41, which surprised me and only managed 16 in 42 years. So, obviously not the most prolific of authors but what he does have is pure gold. Also, by looking at his life pre-41, you notice that he’s a definite advocate for writing about what you know.
He went to Cambridge University… Porterhouse Series.
He worked at an Art and Design College… The Wilt Series.
He lived in South Africa during Apartheid… Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure.
His satirical brand of humour mixed into real life situations allowed you to laugh out loud at the absurdity of life and, I believe, a good healthy sense of humour about the world around you is one of the most important traits you can have. There are tons of moments in his books which will live with me forever.
He was really the first author I ever read, apart from Roald Dahl, who made me want to get other books he had written and, like Roald Dahl (and even PG Wodehouse), he seemed to have a joyful innocence to his own life. The older you get the harder it is to keep hold of your childlike mind, and yet these guys all managed it. In the modern world we often call people ‘Geniuses’ who make things complicated, but there’s a lot to be said for elegant simplicity.
It’s a shame that we’ll never get another Tom Sharpe book but at least his legacy will live on. If you’ve never read any of his books then I urge you to look him up. Get stuck in to Blott on the Landscape and take it from there.