This debut novel by the loquacious Stephen Fry was always likely to be embraced enthusiastically, emanating as it has from the pen of a popular polymath. One also gets the impression that SF has adhered to the old adage of 'write what you know', since the book is largely set in the world of public school and Cambridge, as it tracks the journey of Master Adrian Healey from boyhood, through turbulent adolescence, to the nurturing embrace of the middle class establishment. Certainly the writing style is engaging and shows a sure-footedness that the reader might have expected. However, whilst the main character is mildly interesting in his precocious, brash confidence and quick one-liners, Healey is surrounded by rather cliched caricatures of schoolmasters, college dons and the spy-set, which overall destined this novel to disappoint.
Fundamentally I had expected more originality and though there were humorous elements, for me, these were offset by the dependence on the crudely sexualized description of Healey's experiences, which might equally establish the central character as a victim and perpetrator of abuse. In such territory, light-heartedness is a double-edged sword, even if meant to be tongue in cheek. A very English brand of humour? Possibly. The book may also draw on autobiographical material, but must surely also cast doubt on the character-building qualities of such apparently entrenched institutions, for our youth.