Paradise Postponed (1985)

by John Mortimer

Americans for whom the name John Mortimer doesn't ring a bell may indeed be familiar with the work of the British writer — certainly so if they are fans of public television's Masterpiece Theatre. Mortimer adapted for television Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited as well as his own Rumpole of the Bailey stories.

The novel is the form Mortimer chose for his comedic satire of post–World War II British society and politics, Paradise Postponed. The book opens with the death of left-wing rector Simeon Simcox, whose will inexplicably bypasses his wife and two sons and leaves all to a person who stands for everything Simeon eschewed, right-wing politician and social climber Leslie Titmuss.

The elder son, Henry, a writer, fights the will, claiming his father was insane. Younger son Fred, a country doctor, decides to investigate the mystery in an effort to keep his mother, Dorothy, from having to testify in Henry's lawsuit. The nonchronological plot moves back and forth over nearly four decades in the lives of the Simcoxes and other families in the village of Rapstone Fanner.

Fred does find out why Simeon left all to Titmuss, but solving the mystery is only part of this novel, which is more serious than Mortimer's satiric style at first suggests. The author's amusement with his characters doesn't keep them from being believable and — at least in the case of Fred, Simeon, and Dorothy — sympathetic. Political undertones run through the book. Not only do the characters' lives offer opportunity for reflection on class, public service, and the role of religion in public life, but Mortimer also regularly injects news summaries from the appropriate years. Juggling a mystery, social satire, and political commentary with seeming ease, Mortimer created a novel that is a pleasure on several levels.

After Paradise Postponed, Mortimer wrote two more novels featuring Leslie Titmuss: Titmuss Regained (1991) and The Sound of Trumpets (1998).


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