Sunday, July 27, 2014
I’d never heard of Kyril Bonfiglioli until coming across his Mortdecai series recently quite by accident. In good time too, before the film comes out in Depp/Paltrow/McGregor film comes out in 2015. The New Yorker describes the Mortdecai books as ‘The result of an unholy collaboration between P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Fleming’. One would be hard-pressed to find a better description, aside from adding Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male as a third collaborator.
The Hon. Charlie Mortdecai is a dashingly verbose crooked art dealer with a thuggish manservant, Jock (Mortdecai’s ‘anti-Jeeves’). In the first novel, Don’t Point That Thing at Me, the plot – a stolen Goya, a governmental cover-up, a naughty photograph, a flight to the wide routes of America – is incidental. Tone is all. Bonfiglioni’s isn’t perfect but it comes pretty close, dirtying up Wodehousian charm. There are buckets of camp, a desperately un-politically correct attitude to buxom women and immigrants, and gobbets of poetry waving the flag of an Oxford undergraduate’s utilitarian (that is to say, publically demonstrative) approach to reading.
‘This is not an autobiographical novel,’ writes Bonfiglioli in the prefacing note, ‘it is about some other portly, dissolute, immoral and middle-aged dealer.’ It is this sort of charming, slack knowingness – delivered, one imagines, through curtains of cigarette smoke – that will win you over to Mortdecai’s decadent, shambolic den.