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A semi-parodic spoof of 19th-century British gentility and adventurism in the form of a blustery picaresque that unmasks conventions of English history, literature, and the imperialist imagination. Quixotic protagonist Tresham Pitcher, the son of a deceased officer in the King of Naples' Army, is in the stodgy guardianship of his mother and a network of conservative relations as the novel begins. At a loss to satisfy the boy's yearnings for adventure, the family solicits money for his schooling from a pious, gentlemanly step-uncle, who in turn pleads insufficient funds and arranges a clerical position for Pitcher in the bureacracy. Cooped up and miserable, Pitcher devises an escape: with Roland Farr, a friend at Cambridge, he will undertake a ""march to India,"" ostensibly to recoup a lost investment by Farr's father, Sir Daniel. With spirited cunning inspired by the heroic figures of English adventure literature, the boys create a fictitious persona for Pitcher's adventurous alter ego-- the grizzled war veteran Captain Vinegar; and Pitcher, wielding false bravado and his father's military sword, prepares to confront the wicked Herr Novis in whose hands Sir Daniel's fortunes lie. The stakes and drama build in a vividly rendered expedition east, but the adventure backfires: disease and naivetÉ foil the boys' charade, and their quest goes tragically belly up in the Syrian desert. Oriental exotica has inspired two earlier Glazebrook books (Byzantine Honeymoon, a novel, 1979, and the travel book Journey to Kuts, 1984). This brisk, inventive sendup, a rich gathering of literary devices, is perhaps his best to date.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum