Friday, 23 May 2014

Review: 'The Diary of a Nobody' by George and Weedon Grossmith

535856I put this novel on my 100 Classics list after being told it was the one that established the quintessential Englishman. Since I am still trying to figure out the people by whom I surrounded on a daily basis here in England, I thought there'd be no better book to read. 
Weedon Grossmith's 1892 book presents the details of English suburban life through the anxious and accident-prone character of Charles Porter. Porter's diary chronicles his daily routine, which includes small parties, minor embarrassments, home improvements, and his relationship with a troublesome son. The small minded but essentially decent suburban world he inhabits is both hilarious and painfully familiar. 
Initially this novel took some time getting used to since it is not often that novels are entirely written in diary form. Although the title gave that away, it is still surprising to see how close-minded a story becomes when it is told through the eyes of a single narrator. Most stories, although they centre on a single character, still have an omniscient narrator, allowing for multiple character to get their points of view across. In the case of The Diary of a Nobody, the reader is completely restricted to Charles Pooter's thoughts and therefore naturally follows them. If he finds something rude then so do you, until he tells you of how other characters respond and you are reminded that other opinions are possible as well. George Grossmith's beginnings as a comedy actor on stage shine in this novel. The staging of the scenes, the entrances and exclamations of the right people at the right time, it would all look genius on stage.

The Grossmith Brothers do an amazing job at making Charles Pooter's life as exciting and as boring as possible and yet you find yourself incapable of not continuing to read. In many ways the authors might have had a glimpse into the future and seen the complete obsession we have with reality TV. I found myself caring immensely about whether Charles would manage to get his suit ironed before a dinner party or whether his wife Carrie would be drawn into more crazy fads by her friends. It all seemed to matter because it was so recognizable. If his small problems didn't matter, then neither do mine, and that is where the true power of this novel lies. Because it is so intensely personal, it becomes universal and there aren't a lot of novels that achieve that transition so seamlessly. This might be achieved by the fact that Pooter never discusses his views on religion, politics or anything else too controversial. It is his day to day life, his worries about his son, his thoughts on ties etc. that allow for everyone to become engaged by this novel.

Charles Pooter is most definitely what has become known as the stereotypical Englishman. He is polite to the extreme, so much even it becomes offensive at times, he has morals, he has principles and he is incredibly stuck in his routine and yet somehow happy with how everything is going. Although this is, of course, a stereotype, it is still beautifully accurate in its description of English culture. Add some charm to it and you'd have Tom Hiddleston. In many ways the Grossmiths managed to create the stereotype as much as they described it. It is from Charles and his odd behaviour that a lot of the novel's hilarity comes. You don't realise how insightful the novel is until after you've finished it because during it you're too busy laughing and smirking at the situations.

I give this novel...

5 Universes.

This novel is absolutely genius. It is hilarious, it is wistful, it is sad, it is uplifting. The Grossmiths manage to write something that seems truthfully human while also making it extremely funny I don't think there's anyone for whom I wouldn't recommend this. Although I initially didn't think it was something for me, it only took me four pages to become completely enraptured with it.

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