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‘A Short Gentleman’ by John Canter

Robert Purcell’s height may be stunted, but the Englishman’s opinion of himself shows no such limitations. As a barrister with an enormous brain, he sets out to tell the story of how he ended up in jail in a barrister’s way – by ruthlessly pursuing clarity.

Writers, in Robert’s opinion, don’t tell stories properly. In fact, according to him, they are the last people one should entrust with writing a book, being prone to poetic paragraphs evoking the passage of seasons. If a portico is ornate, I shall write ‘ornate’, Roberts says in his fictional preface,”not concoct a series of phrases that aspire to the condition of ornateness.” Hmm. A short, know-it-all English lawyer. Haven’t we all sat beside one of those at some point and wished deeply with all our hearts that an asteroid would fly in from space and dissolve them to stop them from boring us to death with their endless assertions that they’re right about everything, even the things no-one, not even flies, care about? or is that just me?

Comedy writer Jon Canter has taken the absolute worst of the stereotypical polite, bright Englishman and had him narrate this novel, which is partly painfully awful and partly hysterically funny. It’s sub-titled The Confession of an Emotional Pygmy and Robert turns out to be small in every way. He decides, at eight years old, that he will be a judge like his father and sets about doing so. He needs a wife, so he sets about getting one of those. He is so unfailingly pompous and self-righteous that it’s a miracle he isn’t shot by a total stranger in the first few pages. But there is no such attack and he survives to commit his crime, then write an account of it.

If you know a short, pompous, know-it-all English lawyer, you will love this book. And if you don’t you’ll still love it, and will take extra special care to avoid short, pompous, know-it-all English lawyers in the future. The Independent newspaper in the UK has described Jon Canter as “a North London Woody Allen” and I think they’re on to something. It’s a real skill to make an objectionable character likeable and this author, like Woody, can do it. Hilarious.

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