Title: The Hippopotamus
Author: Stephen Fry
Page Count/Review Word Count: 399
The Hippopotamus is an interesting insight in to the way in which Stephen Fry sees the world, the second novel of the comedian and television personality who’s earned a rightful place in the hearts of the British public. It might not be as strong as some of his other work, but it’s certainly a lot better than the endless slew of ghostwritten rubbish that seems to spew forth from most modern celebrities.
The titular hippopotamus of the novel is a cantankerous old poet who’s past the pinnacle of his career, a lecherous man who’s given to wallowing in long baths like the hippopotami that inspired him. The novel largely follows his exploits as he investigates some bizarre goings on, reporting back to his goddaughter Jane, who suffers from Leukemia – it’s actually a heartwarming story, despite the fact that you initially worry that the main character is simultaneously unpleasant and fundamentally unlikeable.
The Hippopotamus might not be Fry’s strongest work, but it does still lay claim to a certain amount of inventiveness and it contains the usual wit and wisdom that we’ve come to expect from him. Like with most novelists‘ early works, there’s both the signs of future potential and also some worrying gaps in the narrative that leave the reader to un-suspend their disbelief and let their mind wander off to other places.
That said, Fry uses the letters of Ted Wallace, the hippopotamus poet himself, to great effect – as a literary device, they remind me of the diary entries of Jonathon Harker in Dracula. It’s all too easy for a writer to drift in to using this technique as a gimmick, but Fry puts it to good use and it actually breaks the novel up in to manageable segments, which is great if you plan to read it in the evenings before bed.
All in all, this isn’t the immortal novel of a classic writer like Hemingway, Dickens or Graham Greene; this is a pretty good piece of fiction from a guy who’s already proved himself to have a way with words. I’m not going to lie, there are better Fry novels out there – Making History stands out, and some of his non-fiction is fantastic as well. Still, it’s worth reading if you’re a fan of his work.