May 01, 2012

A rediscovered classic, with a literary touch

By Eric Linklater
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Do you enjoy screwball comedy movies from the 1930s?  Then you’ll love this novel, a lark in almost a literal sense, flying high above the English countryside, taking in the whole parade of human folly with chirping delight and impartial wisdom.  So sure-footed a writer was Eric Linklater in his day, that when editor Allen Lane launched Penguin Books in 1935—inventing the cheap quality paperback and revolutionizing the literary trade—Poet’s Pub was among the first books he commissioned. 

At the Bacchanalian core of the novel is its good-natured satire on bookselling, book collecting, book reviewing (mea culpa!), and book writing, especially the silliness of the bad poet. In this case, he bears the improbable name of Saturday Keith, that species of mediocre, self-deluding Orpheus who used to go by the name “poetaster.” With flawless chaos, Linklater’s villains mix up the manuscript of Keith’s latest epic poem with a memorandum containing a secret method for extracting fossil fuel. The absolute equivalence of the two documents epitomizes the subtle hilarity of Poet’s Pub.

As with his great contemporaries Wodehouse and Waugh, the humor of Linklater springs uncannily from the catastrophic shadow of the Great War.  If you or your dad weren’t blown to bits in the trenches, then you might as well write poems, fall in love and learn to laugh at yourself. If you can’t sell copies of your poems, then you may as well run a pub.  If you don’t buy this wonderful novel, you’ll never know what joys you’re missing.

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Poet’s Pub

Poet’s Pub

By Eric Linklater
Penguin Classics
ISBN 9780143106661

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