Eating people is wrong

I was musing a little while ago about reading my very first Faye Weldon, and wondering why on earth it had taken me so long to get round to reading her. I thought much the same but more so when reading Eating people is wrong by Malcolm Bradbury. I love Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, I've always been a big fan of David Lodge, and all three have in common that they write excellent comic novels, especially those that they set against the background of institutes of higher education. I came across Eating people by accident in a secondhand bookshop (the way you do), and was principally drawn to it by its wonderful cover - an early example of cover art from Quentin Blake, who would later be inextricably linked to Roald Dahl.

Eating people is wrong is, without doubt, one of the very funniest books I have ever read (as witnesses on a packed train from London to Cambridge will testify, who will have heard strange chortling noises coming from my direction). It is brilliantly acerbic, hilariously funny, very much of its day, but still retains its wit.

It really couldn't have been written at any period except the late '50's / early '60's, its mores are very much of the period. There are some moments that are awkward reading for a contemporary reader being borderline sexist / racist, but it's a product of the time it came from, this is, to at least a certain extent, what it was like then. I was reminded what a misogynistic era it was, but despite this Bradbury's female characters are strong, and generally are portrayed more positively than the men, despite their huge advantages within the society of the day. It was also a tremendously racist society, and while portraying how that was reflected at the time, Bradbury points out the absurdity of racism with great good humour. If Mr. Eborebelosa from Africa is strange, so are his English hosts, as becomes hilariously evident at the Foreign Students introductory party (guaranteed to make anyone who's attended University and been to any sort of Freshers week meet-and-greet-do shiver).

Malcolm Bradbury,
around the time of "Eating
people is wrong"
The novel tells the story of a 40-something lecturer, Stuart Treece, a rebellious mind in a conservative body, who longs to be more radical, but is also rather scared of this. Eating people is wrong follows a year in his life, as he struggles to support his usual clutch of rather peculiar students, tries not to fall in love with Emma Fielding, who he supervises, maintains his patience with those who think they are more intelligent than they really are, including some truly odious literary types, and ends up in hospital where he becomes the obligatory awkward patient.

Eating people is wrong isn't perfect; the characterisation, for instance, is sometimes less than well developed, but it is incredibly funny, laugh out loud funny. A brilliant introduction to an author, with whom I'm sure I am going to become better acquainted.

For a fascinating account of the story behind the writing of Eating people is wrong (which was inspired by Flanders and Swann's The reluctant cannibal) see Bradbury's own unpublished afterword at


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