Cockerings by Stevyn Colgan
It’s surreal, it’s funny, and essentially it’s a good natured comedy. Stevyn Colgan has created a village – actually a county – and peopled it with remarkable characters. In this adventure he has inserted a circus, an old fashioned Big Top affair that still has animal acts, and accordingly protestors at every performance. Not that every performance runs smoothly, as antique circus equipment is being used by even more antique performers. There are only a few of the circus folk who are under pension age, and most have long since descended into drunken haze of near confusion. Even the animals have descended into a state of aged inactivity, except possibly Della whose tendency to expel bodily fluids and traverse vast distances when frightened is a definite disadvantage. Presiding over this disreputable enterprise is the much younger Ben Ellis, trapped by inheritance and fortune into maintaining a circus into the twenty first century
The reason for the circus turning up at Brill Farm is the bright idea of the Lord Berkeley Cockering, a Viscount whose elder sister, Marcheline, runs the Cockering estate with frightening efficiency. Marcheline is under no illusion about her younger sibling; she knows that his feckless ambitions to be an idle playboy will mean the end of the family’s wealth and position. He therefore has the title and a generous allowance, she holds all the financial control. Their ongoing disagreements are at the heart of this very funny novel, full of subtle (and not so subtle) puns and extended jokes as many of the characters try to live amidst barely contained rural chaos. Sometimes surprisingly frank, this is not a book for the easily shocked, but is definitely entertaining in so many ways. This is a memorable book to have the opportunity of reading and reviewing!
The characters in this book are what really make it work as they try to cope with the rising chaos around them. Colgan was a police officer, but I assume not like the two featured in this book. Special Constable Arthur Pews is renowned for his extended enquires conducted with the help of recently widowed Mrs Beryl Tiggs. The other officer who features is Detective Sergeant Brian Blount, who “was a bitter man”. Demoted as a result of a previous case, he soon becomes obsessed about the circus generally and Ben Ellis particularly, mounting a campaign that is remarkable for its persistence. Not that he is the only character who decides to take decisive action; the county and village is not quite ready for the decisive action taken by many of the main characters which has remarkable results.
This is a comedy which takes most things to extremes in every sense. Colgan is a very funny writer with a fine taste for the surreal and even the shocking. I found this a surprising and enjoyable book which contrasts the idea of a seemingly perfect village with the undercurrents of what is really happening. From the first pile up at the level crossing through the conflict between to aristocrats, this is a novel to savour for its silliness as well as its memorable characters. Perhaps it is British comedy, perhaps it is pushing the boundaries, but there is nothing held back in this book of rural mayhem, ambition and sheer ineptitude which makes for an entertaining and extraordinary read.