Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Plass new to me

One of the disadvantages of not working in OC Books anymore is that I'm not quite so up with the play regarding new titles. I came across what I thought was a new Adrian Plass title at the library the other day - it turned out to be from 2004, in fact. In the past I would have known about that before anyone else, pretty much.

It's the third of his books to have the title, The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, but this one adds a sort of subtitle, On Tour. The interesting thing is that I don't think the original 'Adrian Plass' in the diary books was much up to public speaking, so the meld between the real Plass and the fictional fellow has come a good deal closer.

Unfortunately, the book feels a bit flat, to me. The humour is all there still (though there's a distinct lack of anagrams), and with Plass' fictional son, Gerald, as one of the major characters, there are plenty of appalling puns, but it's as if Plass has had so much trouble with people misunderstanding his humour in the earlier books that he feels the need to make sure they get the joke. Too many stories have a little 'last word' to check the reader into realising that Plass is taking the piss.

Equally, unlike the earlier diaries, which zipped along at a great rate because they were written in short sharp bursts, this one is written in chapters, orderly chapters. The consequence is that it's not quite believable anymore. Believable? Yes, the early diaries were believable because they were so fictional. Here the line between truth and fiction seems to have got a lot narrower, and there are a number of stories that seem to have more than a little grounding in reality.

The Plass character remains as dunderheaded as always, except that he somehow also manages to speak intelligibly for 45 minutes at a stretch in front of an audience. His wife, Anne, is as always right about everything, always calm, always wise. Sorry, but Anne gets a little tedious as a result. Gerald has grown up, but retains plenty of youthful vigour, life and humour. Generally speaking he's the most realistic character. Leonard Thynn is back again, as totally irritating as ever, and with a girlfriend who loves him dearly. Both these characters suffer from having too much explanation, too much time on-screen, as it were. In short hilarious appearances, they do well. As soon as they're made to seem real, they fall over and reveal themselves to be the fictions that they are.

And there are plenty of bit players of the sort that have riddled the earlier Plass books (the Diary was only one example of his best early work) and that are maddeningly 'Christian' in the worst sense. Some of them get just a little a bit too much time as well, but....

Plass is one of the few 'celebrities' I've actually met and talked to; I found him genuine, modest, and normal. He's a typical introvert who happens to shine in a particular public forum. His wife, Bridget, is equally lovely and real, and would, I suspect, not see herself in any way as the ever-wise and patient Anne. Both are the sorts of actors who shine onstage, but prefer a lack of limelight off.

Anyway, there were a couple of things in the book I'd like to quote. One is from Gerald (pg 152 Zondervan paperback edition), and it appealed because by substituting the word 'flippancy' for 'facetiousness,' it describes me too.

'It's like some kind of illness, Dad,' he said. 'I'm diseased with flippancy. It's terrible. Someone says something and I suddenly feel a funny thought tickling my stomach and then rising up my body until it comes out of my mouth. I just can't resist it sometimes.'

Gerald is the speaker in the other quote, too. I presume he's talking about Dylan Thomas:
'Just think about it - a plump little Welsh poet, a womaniser and an alcoholic, produces some of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful arrangements of words that the world will ever hear or see, and we get worried because his morality didn't match his creativity. Well, let me tell you it's hard luck. The beauty and the inventiveness came from God, whatever anyone thinks of the channel. And who are you and I to judge, anyway? I call myself a Christian, but I doubt if I shall ever produce anything a twentieth as beautiful as the things that came from that man's pen.' (page 230)
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