The Anglo-American humorist tells of visits to a wise and understanding spiritual guide. Instead of Morrie on Tuesdays, make it a Catholic ecclesiastic in an English monastery—and tick up the prose a notch.
This inspirational saga starts with Hendra’s 14-year-old hand where it should not have been: under the skirt of cute, friendly, topless Mrs. Bootle. To instruct him in proper hands-off manners, the devout Mr. Bootle hauled him off to the Isle of Wight and the attentions of the Benedictine brothers of Quarr Abbey. (Ah, those Dickensian proper nouns!) There, he came under the aegis of kindly, sweet, and surpassingly understanding Father Joe, who resembled a cartoon monk down to his knobby knees and flat feet—the late Edmund Gwenn could have played Joe to perfection. Thus, young Hendra’s brief excursion beneath a lady’s dirndl led to his epiphany: He would become a teenage monk. Naturally, that didn’t come to pass. Before the author found his true vocation as writer and sometime performer of comedy, he headed for Cambridge and the continent for a proper education. Rather than a monkish tonsure, he encountered Beyond the Fringe. “I went into that theater a monk. I came out a satirist,” he writes. The sporadic visits to Father Joe at Quarr Abbey become less frequent. The story becomes more about Tony than Joe. We learn more about wives and sometime reluctant fatherhood, the career and thoughts of clever Tony than the saintliness of the dear cleric. The writing is certainly quite smart. (One oddity: Hendra eschews capitalization of the Name of the Deity, a convention religiously observed over 20 years ago in the hilarious parody Not the Bible, which he co-authored.) And so the memoir turns into a writer’s autobiography and a showbiz story.
Heartfelt tribute to a kind and wise teacher, though the author seems to have kept the best words of wisdom for himself.