#1976book SOMETHING NASTY IN THE WOODSHED by Kyril Bonfiglioli

somethingnastyI embarked eagerly on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s SOMETHING NASTY IN THE WOODSHED for this month’s Classics Challenge as it was published in 1976 (mandatory) and was purportedly funny (highly desirable for me just now). The first few pages suggested the book would live up to its promise. A well-heeled art dealer named Charlie Mortdecai introduces the reader to his new home – the Island of Jersey off the coast of England – with a mildly cruel but amusing observational style and I settled in for a bit of a romp. A few pages later I was audibly growling in disgust and by page 47 I had thrown the book (gently, because it is a library book) at the wall.

I normally don’t review unfinished books but I wanted to say something about this one because it was selected for part of a challenge and also because I thought I might explode if I didn’t have a bit of a rant.

It’s probably a close run thing but it wasn’t the book’s absurd plot that drove me to throw it at the wall. Though it was seriously stupid. As if a group of not very bright Oxford students had written a Carry On movie. It revolved around a series of rapes taking place on the island, reportedly carried out by someone wearing the mask of a beast, and the local men-folk’s attempts to ‘solve’ the crimes (without the aid of police for reasons that never made sense).

But what tipped me over the edge was the book’s sensibility, dripping as it is with not so casual bigotry and rampant misogyny. I must have checked a half-dozen times to make sure it was written in 1976 and not one or even two hundred years earlier. I can accept that perhaps in 2015 things have gone a little too far down the path of political correctness for some, but surely even in 1976 it wasn’t OK to treat a rape victim as if she had nothing more than an attack of the vapours? For a while I thought I would soldier on – pretending that anything’s OK in the pursuit of satire – but then I got to this paragraph

You see, we anti-feminists don’t dislike women in the least; we prize, cherish and pity them. We are compassionate. Goodness, to think of the poor wretches having to waddle through life with all those absurd fatty appendages sticking out of them; to have all the useful part of their lives made miserable by the triple plague of constipation, menstruation and parturition; worst of all, to have to cope with these handicaps with only a kind of fuzzy half-brain – a pretty head randomly filled, like a tiddly-winks cup, with brightly-coloured scraps of rubbish – why it rings the very heart with pity.

I suppose I should be grateful that he goes on to suggest women are a little better to have around than the family dog (because we don’t chase cats or poo on the footpath).

But I’m not. Grateful that is. For quite some time I wanted to hit something (throwing the book gently at the wall didn’t really cut it) and for quite some time after that I was grumbling incoherently to anyone who would listen at the outrage of such thinking being published in my own lifetime!

I’ve calmed down a bit since yesterday but I’m not going to finish the book. There are some ways of thinking I’d really rather not expose myself to any more than I have to (by, for example, listening to the considered thoughts of our current prime minister). I don’t know if I believe there are some subjects – such as rape or child abuse – that should be taboo for humourists, but I do know that Mr Bonfiglioli didn’t succeed in tackling such a difficult subject with anything like the aplomb he needed. The book – or what I read of it – is crass. Crude. Cringe-inducing. It reminded me of the similar-era TV shows my parents used to watch when I was a kid (e.g. Love Thy Neighbour). Even my not-yet-fully-formed brain knew something was wrong with them and their very existence is what prompted me to escape to my bedroom with a book rather than share the family TV viewing. And I’m pretty sure that if this book had passed my eyes even at the tender age of eight I’d have known it for drivel it is.

Have I turned into a grumpy old woman? Is there a layer of brilliance I’m missing here? Does humour “date” more quickly than other kind of writing?

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17 Responses to #1976book SOMETHING NASTY IN THE WOODSHED by Kyril Bonfiglioli

  1. I dislike Bonfiglioli too and cannot understand why people find this mean-spirited writer amusing. Why they bothered to make a film (Mortdecai) of the first book in the series is a mystery to me (and, I expect, to the producers) after its spectacularly bad reception. Do post a review on Goodreads to warn others…

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  2. Oh, you are absolutely not just being grumpy, Bernadette! That’s mean-spirited misogyny if I ever heard it, and I would have had precisely the same reaction that you did. And it doesn’t even sound as though there was any kind of decent plot to salvage the book. This is most definitely a book I’m never going to waste my time reading.

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  3. FictionFan says:

    I think the 70s were probably worse for misogyny than a hundred years or so ago – the last thrashing of the neanderthal male in the face of the inevitability of growing equality for women. I went to work in 1975 and vividly remember how certain sections of the male employees treated the ‘girls’ (of course, there were only two groups – the men and the girls – says a lot by itself, doesn’t it?). They liked us well enough – the way people like kittens – but they didn’t expect us to do something so revolutionary as express an opinion. One of the things I take most pleasure in is seeing that ‘girls’ today don’t have to go through quite such rampant sexism in the workplace as my generation did. Though of course it still happens…

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    • I do know I am lucky to have been born when I was and not earlier…my mum had to resign her job when she got married in 1961…I suppose I can look at all this positively and know that in a relatively short time this kind of thinking has been…if not quashed completely at least silenced somewhat. Although each day last week my local newspaper had a front page story about a woman being killed/nearly killed by an ex husband/partner…so the notion of women as property is still alive and well 😦

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  4. realthog says:

    I read one of Bonfiglioli’s novels back in the 1970s, and can remember nothing about it except that it was dull enough to resolve me never to read another. He did a great job editing the magazine Science Fantasy/Impulse, though.

    I see you got your wish re Australia’a now ex-prime minister!

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  5. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: I prefer to think of you as an aggravated mature woman.

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  6. kathy d. says:

    Good for you in writing this anti-review, Bernadette. I would have thrown this book against a wall, too, and yelled, rather than muttered.
    Why don’t you write a comment at Amazon US and Amazon UK and wherever else you can?
    Misogyny never seems to go out of style. Over here, the Republican candidates are outdoing each other, especially Trump, attacking women’s rights. He’s attacking women in the crassest, crudest terms, even criticizing another Republican candidate’s facial appearance!
    And during a “debate,” when he was called out by a woman host for his sexist terms, he attacked her. No other person on the “panel” disagreed with what he said.
    Watching TV “news” these days is like dodging land mines.
    That paragraph you cited is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in print.
    But sexual assault is still not taken seriously over here; the military brass respond to a very small percentage of sexual assaults, and neither so campus administrations, although that may be changing due to women standing up. But they still want to brush it under the carpet.
    It’s 2015 but some are trying to push everything back to the 1950s over here.
    I truly hope one of the Neanderthals don’t get to the White House.

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    • For me it’s a bit of a tossup writing negative reviews Kathy as I sometimes think it gives more air to an otherwise non-event of a book than ought to be given. But I did feel the need on this occasion. I’m not much of a fan of Amazon so I try to avoid buying from them and I don’t give them free reviews for them to use as they please. I realise I am fighting a losing battle but you gotta try right?

      As for the political scene…I keep thinking Trump must be a joke candidate. Except not very funny. But then I watch footage of his supporters and I worry. One lone lunatic (even a rich one) can only do so much damage but an army of them is another issue. Then again I wonder if he hasn’t been deliberately trotted out to be as outrageous as possible so that when a run of the mill bigot/misogynist gains the leadership he (and it will be a he) looks good in comparison. That’s my inner conspiracy theorist thinking anyway.

      And there is no doubt that regardless of how far we have come women still have a long way to go to gain anything like equality – so many are afraid in their own homes, or won’t/can’t speak out after being assaulted for fear of not being believed or being treated as if they asked for it. I think that’s why I got so cross reading this book…I know the phrase ‘abuse of privilege’ is thrown around a lot these days but I felt like it was exactly that… a white man born well enough off through no skill on his part taking a potshot at everyone ‘lesser’ than him – people without as much education or money, women etc. Ugh.

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  7. tracybham says:

    I was thinking back to when I was working in the 1970’s. I got my job because I helped fill a quota of women in higher level jobs. I worked with a bunch of guys (mostly) much older than me, and they might have resented me getting paid close to as much as them, but the ones I worked with my age were all fine. In fact I met my current husband there and we started out our marriage on a very equal footing. Moving into the 1980’s, my first job in Santa Barbara was in an insurance agency where all the men were addressed as Mr. xxx and all the women were address by their first names. I am not kidding. I was there three months, Then I moved to the publishing co. where I worked nearly 30 years and no one was treated differently because of sex (or sexual orientation). Women held many of the higher level jobs. This was all in California though. I would bet it was different in the South that I had left behind.

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  8. That is very interesting Tracy, thanks for sharing…I think I have been living a little in my ivory tower of relative youth…I was talking to a colleague about my reaction to this book during the week and she told me similar stories to yours…she started working in 1972 and had to fight for four years to be paid the same as the men doing the same job as her (in fact for two of those years she was training the men new to the job but was still paid less).

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  9. Totally agree – I picked up one of these books a while back, after reading a recommendation, and reacted as you did. Definitely, throw-across-the-room bad. Bigoted, misogynistic, unpleasant, and not at all funny.

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  10. icewineanne says:

    One to avoid for sure! Thanks for the heads up.

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  11. kathy d. says:

    U.S. women are paid less than men, Black women and Latinas are in the lowest paid jobs. This is U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. I have to research these things and keep track of them. Even in Hollywood, women earn less than men, or so it was revealed in the scandal about the film American Hustle.
    I remember at my first typing job at age 18, my father, who got the job for me, told the manager of a department of a big insurance company not to call a middle-aged woman “girl,” which he had just done. That stuff still goes on and when I hear women calling other women “girls,” I want to scream.

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