The Unspeakable Skipton
Pamela Hansford Johnson
Hodder 2019
240 Pages

The Unspeakable Skipton by acclaimed British author Pamela Hansford Johnson, has been recently rereleased in paperback by Hodder and Stoughton, sporting a cover illustration that represent the earlier, more sophisticated time of its original 1959 publication. The Unspeakable Skipton: The Modern Classic

Fifty year-old Daniel Skipton is a writer. Accepting no less than perfection, if he is to be believed, he is a most magnificent one at that. He lives in Belgium where he is supported by the kindness of strangers, friends and relatives, advances from his publisher, and his own version of con artistry.

Although capable of actual work and realizing his creative ambitions, Daniel turns out very little. He exists on the financial edge, using his creative manipulations to beg, borrow or steal in order to meet his expenses. The arrogant and self-serving Daniel carries a particular disdain for all human beings.

Thus the unspeakable Skipton, far from being a gentleman’s gentleman, befriends a group of tourists and is quickly welcomed into their social circle. His motives are far from congenial as he plans to take advantage of whoever he can, and swindle the most wealthy out of a hefty amount of cash.

If you can imagine Niles Crane reading this book aloud, you will get the general feel. Lofty and pretentious, the plot can get lost in the sheer weight of its vocabulary. The Unspeakable Skipton illustrates societal class differences, and what is acceptable behaviour for each gender. Seen from that point of view, and the fact that it was written in the 1950s, makes for an interesting study.

Hansford Johnson has a unique and creative way of describing the world, using a sophisticated manner of speaking, but with such vivid descriptions that leave nothing to doubt.

Understanding the nature of her characters is easy, however their pretensions make them difficult to like. I would have enjoyed the book more and rooted for the underdog had even one character been appealing to me. Still, I appreciate them for who they are.

The cover of The Unspeakable Skipton bills the story as “wickedly funny”. Perhaps my sense of wicked, or humour is lacking, or simply different, but I did not even crack a smile. (I admit to not being overly familiar with this version of “high comedy”.)

The ending was satisfying from a “just desserts” point of view. It made reading everything up to that point worthwhile.

The style and sophistication of The Unspeakable Skipton is definitely a departure from novels written in our current day and age. While it was not my cup of tea, I am sure that it will appeal to another audience.

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