I’m reading a brilliant, prodigious work, Paradise Postponed by John Mortimer, the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey. The Rumpole stories, though highly formulaic, are always delightful because Mortimer has a seemingly inexhaustible source of crazy characters that reflect English society.
They bring us a mishmosh of classes and generations, as when the Wordsworth-quoting barrister Horace Rumpole meets with a punk rocker with an orange mohawk at the Tastee-Bite Restaurant, who provides the telling testimony that will get Rumpole’s client off the hook.
In Paradise Postponed, Mortimer presents two or three generations of such characters from a single community and knits it all together masterfully. He shows the same brilliance at creating walking, talking characters, but he also shows us their children, and why they turn out the way they do.
The book revolves around the will of The Reverend Simeon Wilcox, a socialist and a social reformer, who, for reasons unknown, left the balance of his holdings in Wilcox Breweries, not to his family, but to a toad-like character, Leslie Titmuss, who has insinuated himself into the conservative government.
Wilcox’s son Henry contests the will, claiming his father was insane, and in the course of his suit, his solicitor, Jackson Cantellow, calls on Henry’s mother Dorothy, Simeon’s widow. Cantellow was also a member of a choral group that, as the wife of the rector, Dorothy had heard many times.
“Mrs. Simcox, if you had read my letters, you’d’ve been aware that your son, Henry, is attacking his father’s will on the grounds that the late Rector was of unsound mind, memory, and understanding. We shall need your view on that.”
“Well, of course Simeon was mad.”
“Really?” The solicitor was gratified.
“Aren’t we all? Aren’t you, Mr. Jackson Cantellow?”
“I would say, mad as a hatter. Writing me letters which I have no desire to read. Asking a lot of questions I have o desire to answer. Singing in those awful concerts.”
“I really don’t see what the Worsfield Choral has to do with it.” For the first time Cantellow looked hurt.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha … le … lu …Hallelujah! Taking forever just to sing one word! On and on and on until everyone dies of boredom. Why couldn’t you just say “Hallelujah” and get it over with, like a normal person?”