SWANSONG by Richard H. Francis


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Francis serves another slice of his satiric pie (dished up before in The Whispering Gallery, Daggerman). This time it's Britain's involvement in the Falkland Islands war that provides the backdrop for an inventive group portrait. David, for example, is an Anglican priest in a village near Shrewsbury. Having recently lost his wife, he seeks solace in booze and in the company of Terry, a slickly groomed but thoroughly ineffectual insurance salesman. Terry's current aspiration is to join a shooting syndicate presided over by a local aristocrat, Frankie. This aim wavers after a muddy shooting expedition, when Frankie invites him to take a shower, and Terry discovers that this sporty pink-faced man is biologically a woman, who describes herself as a male homosexual trapped in a woman's body. And then, on stage nearby, there's Premo Bulge, who dresses in filthy clothes and performs ""pig music"" for hordes of hopping teen-agers. (Premo's willingly pursued by Nicola, a secretary obsessed with her stillborn twin.) For really high rank, there's Mrs. Cheeseman, Britain's Prime Minister herself, with a penchant for fluorescent lights and a gift for seeing a bigger picture than her advisors. Notable among her inner circle are Joseph Harper, a formerly staunch monetarist who had a Keynesian revelation on Hampstead Heath; and Horace Benchley, Minister of Art and Culture: sent off to Shropshire on a fund-raising mission, Horace meets shrimp-pink Frankie and falls blissfully in love. And on we go: Mrs. Cheeseman's sister, Queen, runs a vegetable stall in Battersea. Married to Frankie's housekeeper's brother, Jack, Queen takes secret pleasure in seducing her vaguely criminal lodger, Tom (Frankie's son). Premo gets word that Nicola's pregnant; he marries her and joins the army. So does Tom. Meanwhile, the Fat Man, an anarchist in Mrs. Cheeseman's hire, is inciting the Cosanaguan leadership to invade Farguhar Island, a British property off its coast. And thus the war--Mrs. Cheeseman's personal post-Keynesian solution to Britain's economic woes. The Farquhar maneuver falls rather flat, but then political commentary isn't what Francis does best. He's at his most stylish when reporting directly from his characters' whacked-out brains, giving us, in all, clever, uneven, occasionally dazzling black-comic entertainment.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1986
Publisher: Atheneum