The Polyglots – William Gerhardie

As you can see from the cover, William Boyd (no less) rates ‘The Polyglots’ (1925) as: “The most influential English novel of the Twentieth Century.”

I would be inclined to award that prize to ‘Ulysses’, perhaps, or else ‘To the Lighthouse’.

Those are both great literary masterpieces, while this, emphatically, is not.

The narrative, such as it is, concerns the daily life of a bunch of distantly related expatriates in (mostly) 1920s Harbin – and subsequently on board an ocean liner returning to England.

A succession of thinly-drawn characters is paraded before us, each defined by their foibles and eccentricities.

There is a frivolous, lightly comedic air, which shades, once or twice, into something darker, typically when someone dies. Random philosophical musings occasionally punctuate proceedings.

If it has any point at all, I, for one, completely missed it.


April 2023

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