Review by John S:
This is the story of Hugh Shell, on his own admission a rather boring young chap, and his relationships with three people: his worldly and successful brother Bertrand who works for the Foreign Office, a writer called Mark Orburn (who is in fact a woman) with whom he conducts a lengthy and inconclusive correspondence, and an attractive but lukewarm girlfriend called Harriet. After working for several years as a manager on training projects for the unemployed in Yorkshire and Wales, Hugh loses interest and decides to become a man of leisure. He and Harriet then swan aimlessly around the resorts of western Europe – as you do – until she is fed up with him and leaves. Each of Hugh’s relationships is marred by misunderstanding and a failure to connect, and everyone is essentially alone. Sitting in a café in Grenoble, waiting for Bertrand who requires a lift back to England, Hugh reflects on his life and failures. On the drive to Paris and the flight to London, Hugh feels progressively worse. He is diagnosed with pneumonia and enters a nursing home. Now in a state of delirium he continues to ruminate on the themes of Harriet, Mark and Bertrand.
I am not sure why this novel is called ‘Some Other Planet’ and must have skipped over the bit where that is explained. But each of the main characters is on a different planet, both psychologically and emotionally, and there is no real meeting between them. Hugh, a sporty Oxford graduate, is quite frankly a drip and he knows it. He comes to life twice, first on page 109 where he subdues a group of rowdy Yorkshiremen at the training centre with a shovel, and secondly when he pursues Harriet onto the boat train to persuade her to let him accompany her on an extended holiday. In general, however, Hugh is passive. On page 241 he reflects on 31 years of uselessness. All of the characters want to be alone, yet not alone at the same time. ‘I need to be alone’, says Harriet on page 320, but in fact it is hard to work out what she really wants except a life of leisure. The plot and action swirl around, for Hugh is recalling the past under the influence of a fever that started as he drove through the mountains to Grenoble to rendezvous with the shifty and supercilious Bertrand.
Pamela Frankau’s use of a medical crisis towards the end of the novel brings to mind Gilbert Frankau’s awkward procedure in the closing chapters of ‘Peter Jackson, Cigar Merchant’. Pamela and Gilbert have more in common than any of the other authors that I have encountered through the reading group. Is there a Frankau modus operandi and style?