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The ""biography"" of the late William Kitchener Brown, a ""gentleman's gentleman""--as chattily assembled by an unnamed old friend and fellow writer of Brown's 30-year employer, Hereward Watkins. This narrator is endlessly fascinated by ""Brownie."" Most readers will not be--though, admittedly, this butler/manservant/cook is anything but a Jeeves clone. Brownie was, in fact, of dubious ancestry, probably illegitimate, and definitely a racist. He fought a lifelong battle against the bottle (with resort to electro-shock therapy). He married, divorced, and then, mysteriously attractive to women, indulged his ""ruthlessly irresponsible"" lust. He browbeat his boss Hereward--who, though well-born, could hardly afford him (so Brownie did freelance catering)--with ""the stick of class-consciousness."" He lied, he often smelled bad (failing to bathe or change socks), he was a hypochondriac. And when Hereward married after 20 or so years, Brownie had trouble finding a tenable new arrangement. All this is lightly sketched in, mildly interesting, occasionally amusing (especially Brownie illustrating the dissection of a bird--for Chicken NapolÉon--on his own body). But it's the stuff of a most-interesting-character-I-ever-met sketch, a short story at most, certainly not a novel. A passably stylish trifle, then--and, at $14.95 for 182 pages, an eminently skippable one.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (North Pomfret, VT 05053)