Monday, December 05, 2005

Sex and Other Changes

In the unlikely event that I ever put a foot into the dating scene, I think a useful litmus test sort of question is to ask about Reginald Perrin. Anyone who doesn't know who he is is too young. Plus, well, he had a particular sort of post-despair world view that had a lot of appeal, while managing to be hugely funny at the same time.

His creator's latest effort has moved on, although there some familiar things, such as the pre-occupation with banally innacurate street names and hatred of stuffed shirts, represented here by bosses and the golf club captain. There were even a couple of echoes of Reggie's being late every day by exactly the same amount of time. Here, Nick and Alison are a lot more accepting of human frailty than our friend Reggie ever was. They would have to be, as it turns out they both need a fair amount of support from each other and their community. They meet as teens at the Thurmarsh Grammar School Bisexual Humanist Society, where Alison captivates him with her speech as to the possibility of unselfishness. There follows a fairly typical tale of school sweethearts and marriage, but 13 years in, Alison has a revelation in the menswear department of Marks and Spencer - she should really be a man.

Before she can share this with Nick, he stammers through his own confession that he has decided to go through with sex re-assignment surgery himself. This leaves Alison in a strange place: she is so angry with him for stealing her thunder that she has to make life difficult for him, and thus can't tell him that's what she wants for herself. So, we have a nice situation of her doing the dutiful partner thing, as Nick goes through his counselling, his drugs etc while she says nothing.

Not forever, however: once his change is a success, it is her turn. It is strange, but it is only when they have both swapped gender that living together becomes too awkward for them and they go off to find suitable partners.

The book turned out to be a lot more subtle than I expected; rather than going for the funny bone all the time, there is quite a tender exploration of the tensions present in the relationship. Ultimately, he produces for us a classic romantic comedy, updated for modern conditions.


Blogger Marie said...

Ah, Reggie Perrin. Home of one of my all-time favourite quotes: "I will die not knowing the names of the trees and the flowers, but I will know the sales figures of gooseberry crumble in Schleswig-Holstein."

11:09 AM  

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