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The Throwback (1978)

by Tom Sharpe

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6811125,440 (3.43)5
A brilliant, biting, bestselling satire from the foremost satirist in the English language of his generation.

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I was completely taken by surprise.

After reading Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, two Tom Sharpe novels firing caustic satirical zingers at the South African police force and everybody else in sight, I anticipated the same sum and substance with the author's 1978 humdinger, The Throwback. However, in addition to the whirlwind of loony events as a rustic country gentleman educated in the old ways deals with modern English society, alas, there is another aspect - what Joseph Campbell refers to in the world of myth as The Hero's Journey.

Indeed, one could easily chart protagonist Lockhart Flawse's progress through the various archetypal stages along the journey - the call to adventure, encountering helpers and mentors, radical transformation, return. This mythic dimension bestows a depth absent in those other two Tom Sharpe books - in this way, not only is The Throwback bonkers hilarious, it is also profoundly moving.

Turning to the story itself, it all started back in 1956 when Lockhart's mother, having been hurled from a horse while out hunting, spent her last living hour giving birth to a son right there on the spot under a dry-stone wall but refused to divulge the name of the boy’s father to her own father, Old Mr Flawse. What she did do was wail and shout ‘Great Scot!’ during delivery which prompted the old man to name his grandson after the biographer of Sir Walter Scott.

And so, despising his daughter’s behavior, the old man took it out on her bastard son – Lockhart was allowed nothing, not even a birth certificate. Old Mr Flawse made sure the boy grew up with none of his mother’s faults. “At eighteen Lockhart knew as little about sex as his mother had known or cared about contraception.”

The boy was raised in isolation at Flawse Hall, up on the bleak Northumberland moors, in the strictest Puritan ethic and home schooled in mathematics, hunting and the Bible. Since Flawse Hall was graced with neither heat nor electric, young Lockhart might as well have been brought up in the days of Lord Byron and Thomas Carlyle. An authentic throwback, for sure.

Age ninety, Old Mr Flawse acts on medical advice and takes a cruise ship to points south. Lockhart now a handsome youth of eighteen, comes along. It’s there on the ship Lockhart meets beautiful, comparably naïve Jessica and falls, nay, plunges, head over heels in love. Upon setting eyes on a dashing gentleman right off the pages of all her nineteenth century British romance novels, Jessica’s heart is likewise aflame.

The next morning the couple are married by the captain. This as part of a grand scheme thanks to conniving, calculating Mrs. Sandicott, Jessica’s mother, a widow – and part of her plan for wealth and estate: herself wedding ancient Mr Flawse, soon to be pushing up daisies (or so she thinks). My good lady, if you only knew who really set the trap!

Thus, the stage is ready and "the play's the thing" complete with Monty Pythonesque hilarity and outrageous farce, startling X-rated shenanigans, painful pandemonium and bawdy burlesque (not Lockhart and Jessica who kiss and hug and think babies come from storks). Oh, my clash of culture past versus culture present - no matter what the situation: Lockhart working in a London tax office, Mrs. Sandicott enduing Flawse Hall (ah, my God, no heat, no electric, no neighbors, no car!), the young romantic couple living on an affluent suburban street, Tom Sharpe sets to work with his searing, scorching comic wit. Here are several juicy bits of mayhem:

Through Mrs. Sandicott, Lockhart is given a job at the London office of her departed husband’s tax accounting firm, apprenticing under a Mr. Treyer. The first thing Mr. Treyer tells the new employee is “Income and Asset Protection has a more positive ring to it than tax avoidance. And we must be positive.” Lockhart takes these words of wisdom to heart and proceeds to deal with the letters from the Income Tax authorities in the same manner he learned from his grandfather – over the course of the next week, when the daily mail arrives, he gathers up every single piece of correspondence from the government and uses the bathroom toilet as an incinerator. Upon learning of Lockhart’s direct and unorthodox approach to protecting client assets, Mr. Treyer nearly has a heart attack.

The new employee is relegated to a separate office handling more peripheral responsibilities like wining and dining clients on the expense account. Again, Lochhart takes his new duties seriously and, in the spirit of saving money, treats an important client to a grand lunch at a local fish & chips joint. Mr. Treyer's reaction is anything but positive – he almost has a nervous breakdown.

The next incident seals the deal: Lockhart is instructed not to let anyone have access to company files. A few days later, when an officer from the Customs and Excise VAT department reaches for a file, Lockhart slams the cabinet drawer on the officer’s hand, breaking every finger and a few other bones. Thereafter a new arrangement is formulated: Lockhart will be given his full salary and benefits if he never sets foot in the office again. Lockhart is flummoxed, not understanding why the business world thrives not on honesty but hypocrisy.

Jessica will come into a fortune once she can sell all the upper middle class houses she owns on their street. However, the occupants must move out for this to happen. But with the current rent control laws, nobody is about to move. Lockhart to the rescue. Through a series of well timed maneuvers, the placid suburban street is turned into an exploding inferno. The local police force and fire department are called to the scene. In short order the neighborhood is transformed yet again, this time into a war zone.

As part of Lockhart’s tactics to create chaos, he feeds a neighbor’s bull-terrier doggie treats lacked with LSD. The desired effect is achieved. The bull-terrier sinks its teeth into a number of unfortunate residents and ravages houses left and right, and then “harbouring psychedelic vision of primeval ferocity in which policemen were panthers and even fence posts held a menace. Certainly the bull-terrier did. Gnashing its teeth, it bit the first three policemen out of the Panda car before they could get back into it, then the gatepost, broke a tooth on the Colonel’s Humber, sank its fangs into a police car’s front radial tyre to such effect that it was knocked off its own feet by the blow-out while simultaneously rendering their escape impossible, and went snarling off into the night in search of fresh victims.”

When the dust and ashes settle, Lockhart and Jessica are neighbor-free. In addition to the monies from the sale of the houses, the couple are now the proud owner of something else – a much loved pet bull-terrier Lockhart renamed Bouncer.

Our Northumberland gentleman continues his tussles with the modern world, including a libel suit against uppity romance novelist Miss Genevieve Goldring and then dealing with an invasive tax man back at Flawse Hall. There's also the matter of his grandfather's will. And much, much more. For readers who enjoy Tom Sharpe's over-the-top and at times shocking humor, The Throwback is a hoot and a half.

Recall I said this is also a profoundly moving tale. At the conclusion of his own, very individual hero's journey, Lockhart comes into the full blossom of manhood and recognizes the truth of Joseph Campbell's words: “The fundamental human experience is that of compassion.” Well to keep in mind when reading this overlooked modern classic.

"In place of thrift there were expense-account lunches and rates of inflationary interest that were downright usury; instead of courage and beauty he found arrant cowardice in men - the doctor's squeals for help had made him too contemptible to hit - and in every building he saw only ugliness and a sordid obeisance to utility, and finally to cap it all there was the omnipresent concern with something called sex which grubby little cowards like Dr Mannet wanted to substitute for love." - Tom Sharpe, The Throwback ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Northumbrian Humour: "The Throwback" by Tom Sharpe Far, far away, in a distant magical land where only Sharpe’s books existed....
Manuel and Ana were entering the room.
"Hay Ana" said Manuel
Ana was looking unhappy though.
"Bad news Manuel. We are broke"
"Hu? But after our last adventure we were rich"
"Yes, but after paying the taxes we are broke. In fact, we owe money now because taxes are high for rich people"
"Ow. Darn it. What will we do?" said Manuel to Ana.
"We need to make a lot of money to pay off the taxes; if we don't, our palace in which we live will be repossessed!"
Just then, the TV which was on all this time changed to a news announcement.
"And the world Killing People championship final starts tomorrow. Aside from the coveted trophy, the prize this year will include 2 million euros...In other news, a war is on..."
Ana shut the TV off.
If you're into reviews written as fiction, read on. ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
One of the funniest books I've ever read. Contains a brilliant idea for dealing with the IRS, and you will never ever look at a cheese-grater the same way again. ( )
  Tonestaple | May 3, 2015 |
Lockheart Flawse exposes the suburban foibles of his tennants in Sandicott Close. Terrified out of their wits, one by one they beat a hasty retreat and Lockheart's dream of escaping hated East Pursley, and his 12 rent-controlled houses comes a step closer.
  Hans.Michel | Sep 13, 2013 |
Bâtard de son état, le jeune Lockhart Flawse a reçu de son grand-père une étrange éducation. Capable de lire l'Ancien Testament en ourdou, de réciter ses tables en latin, il est, à dix-huit ans, totalement ignorant des choses du sexe. Aussi, lorsqu'il tombe amoureux, sa vie se transforme-t-elle en une farce cocasse. Pour Evelyne Pieiller (Le Magazine littéraire) : ' Tom Sharpe est un affreux. Un Pied Nickelé punky, tendance iroquois, qui serait né du mariage contre nature d'une Jane Austen dopée à la bière brassée maison et de toute la bande des Monty Python en état de crise. Il est teigneux ; obsédé, épouvantablement grossier, c'est peu de dire qu'il ne respecte rien. Evidemment, il ne fait pas dans la dentelle, ni même dans l'arsenic. Son genre de cinéma, ce serait plutôt... Massacre à la tronçonneuse. '
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
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A brilliant, biting, bestselling satire from the foremost satirist in the English language of his generation.

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