Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: Donald Trump reviews Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Spectator competition winners: Donald Trump reviews Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Text settings
Comments

The latest competition invited you to submit a review of a well-known work of literature that has been written by a comically inappropriate reviewer. Some of you chose well-known individuals for the job; others provided reviews written by anonymous writers but penned in a comically inappropriate style.

Honourable mentions go to Nicholas Stone and John O’Byrne, who let Donald Trump loose on The Odyssey and Brave New World respectively. I also liked Jane Moth’s assessment of Great Expectations from the perspective of a reviewer writing for All Things Bridal magazine: ‘So we opened Great Expectations with much anticipation, knowing that great expectations are precisely what our executive brides have. Imagine our disappointment when Ms Havisham, the bride to be, singularly failed to achieve the dream wedding we know you all desire.’; and Frank Upton caught my eye with his dental technician’s-eye view of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

The worthy winners, in a generally strong field, are printed below and take £25 each; the bonus fiver is Bill Greenwell’s.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: The Trial/Bill Greenwell

As far as one can see, Mr. Kafka’s preliminary disquisition on jurisprudence, entitled ‘The Trial’, is a masterly collocation of facts and opinions, skilfully edited together, with all the administrative detail very finely observed, and the ipso facto very well distinguished from the post hoc ergo propter hoc, while the amusements are kept to a respectable minimum, as befits the deliberative character of the officials who are responsible for the responsible offices, all of which are perfectly in keeping with what one would expect in such a very particular case as this, and it is in its very particular particularity that Mr. Kafka hits the appropriate nail on the appropriate head, striking downwards rather than upwards with decisive and vigorous determination, in such a way that I for one would be more than pleased to see further chapters the author may write on this subject, in continuance of the theme.

Joe Grundy: Animal Farm/Adrian Fry

‘Animal Farm’? It may be a ‘modern classic’ but George Orwell don’t know a blummin’ thing about agriculture. I’ve been a farmer in Ambridge all me life — and suffered the Farmer’s Lung to prove it — but I never seen no livestock as could take over and run a farm. Fair enough, pigs is clever animals, but I’ve never kept one as could haggle with a feed rep, leave alone drive a tractor or do the accounts: no hands, see? The Prof down at The Bull reckons as Orwell’s on about Russia, but I says he’s having me on; none of the animals is called Boris and there’s no mention of them furry hats they all has thereabouts. No, it’s townies likes this sort of twaddle, talking animals and whatnot. If this is how they think things is in the countryside, small wonder agriculture is in such a mess.

Henry James: Diary of a Nobody/Mike Morrison

The title of this little work is, in essence, the story. Charles and Carrie Pooter — late-Victorian north Londoners, respectable, harmless, ineffectual. He takes up slings and arrows against, inter alia, insouciant delivery-boys and unreliable ironmongers; is at variance with his wastrel progeny, Lupin. The Grossmith brothers offer us a microcosm in meltdown; Chaos malgré soi. Quotidian reverses and irksome vicissitudes beset our quasi-hero: he refurbishes the bathtub with non-drying red enamel; out-of-town friends but not he are served at ‘his’ local inn; wife, son, and associates routinely belittle him. He clutches at tattered dignity as one drowning might hug a log.

No other nation has produced such an honest vignette of itself; I write the above as an expatriate American. The Pooters and their ilk could only ever be English: they will stand, like Shakespeare’s characters, as Everyman and Everywife for all time.

David Attenborough: Dracula/Alan Rain

How cleverly the Count, camouflaged as a red-eyed bat, haunts the sleeping Lucy. Watch how he flits around her, fangs at the ready. The inevitable strike will pierce her tender neck; the taking of his sustenance will be from her blood. Ahh ... come close and observe how he laps at the seeping wound, wasting not a drop.

Sadly, there’s no hope for the Lucy. Despite daily replenishments of blood from her distraught minders, further attacks will take place until the poor creature is dead. Such is life. Such is death, and yes, remarkably, life again, because this Lucy will not suffer a simple death. The Count will not only kill, but make her one of his own. It is a foul and unnatural way to die. And the true horror, still to come, will be when the Lucy is reincarnated as an undead Bride. Quite, quite horrible.

Alan Turing: The Code of the Woosters/George Simmers

Thanks for sending ‘The Code of the Woosters'. Quite a challenge! Ostensibly, yes, it’s a novel about romantic complications and the pursuit of silverware, but, as you suggest, the thing is so implausible, absurd and indeed artificial, that something else must be going on. At first I suspected a standard double Penfold encryption, possibly based on the keywords ‘Fink’ and ‘Nottle’.A week spent decoding on this assumption produced only gibberish, but I noted a reiterated sentence suggesting that ‘the stars are God’s daisy chain’.

Does this imply a ‘daisy-chain’ of encryption, one coded message being re-encrypted, then recursively re-encoded another n times, possibly mechanically? If so, it will be a hard nut to crack. Theoretically, however, it should be possible to construct a machine of our own, able to turn this text’s apparent nonsense into sense.

Tricky in practice but worth trying?

Donald Trump: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire/Hugh King

Gibbon, the history geek, despite too much fancy prose, anticipates the tragedy of present-day America. Essentially, the Eyeties ran one hell of an empire until it went belly-up around 490 AD. Before that they had a proper army and some great law-enforcement ideas like crucifying troublemakers or building Hadrian’s Wall to keep out Scotch thieves and rapists. They also had some very nice real estate for high-end people. They threw terrific parties and you can bet that guy Caligula showed that there was no problem under his toga.

Gibbon explains that problems arose when barbarians (a polite word for migrants) came in and took over jobs from the locals. The military went soft and bleeding-heart liberals, stirred up by Christians, peddled insane ideas about pacificism. Then it was downhill all the way. As one of their guys said, O tempora, O mores — Latin for you gotta get angrier.

Your next challenge is to submit a verse obituary of a well-known person who has died in the past year (16 lines maximum). Email entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 27 April.