Theroux and Through

Julian Barnes

  • The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain by Paul Theroux
    Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp, £9.95, October 1983, ISBN 0 241 11086 6
  • Doctor Slaughter by Paul Theroux
    Hamish Hamilton, 137 pp, £6.95, June 1984, ISBN 0 241 11255 9

A couple of years ago there was one of those Barry Humphries TV specials in which the Australian entertainer teases an audience of notables to the edge of humiliation. The guests attend to the act warily, poised between the pleasure of being official celebrities and the fear of being publicly ridiculed. After tormenting various patsies in a way that must have made them wish there was an RSPCA for humans, Dame Edna (for it was she) suddenly spotted Melvyn Bragg. ‘And there’s little Melvyn!’ she yelped. The erstwhile chairman of the Arts Council’s Literature Panel grinned no more easily than any of us would have done in his place. ‘Hands up,’ demanded Dame Edna, ‘hands up anyone who’s read one of Melvyn’s novels.’ For whatever reason, not a single hand was raised: whereupon Edna came over all sympathetic and chiding. ‘Now don’t you go writing any more of them, Melvyn, until we’ve all had time to catch up.’

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