John Mortimer’s masterful novel, Paradise Postponed, charts the sea changes in British society after World War II
My reading list for work is a teetering tower of library books on so many engrossing topics: from Queen Victoria to the Plantagenets, as well as Greenland, and John Julius Norwich’s spectacular history of Sicily, but sometimes nothing else will do but curling up with an old favorite and big mug of tea.
This week I indulged in just that kind of luxury with a re-read (possibly we are in triple digits by now) of Paradise Postponed by John Mortimer. Mortimer’s achievements include writing the screenplay for the original television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and, of course, creating the inimitable Rumpole of the Bailey. Paradise Postponed was also adapted for TV with a star-studded cast that included Annette Crosbie, Peter Egan, David Threlfall, Michael Hordern, Zoe Wanamaker, Colin Blakely, and Jill Bennett.
Mortimer’s genius is on full display in Paradise Postpone, which is hard to assign to just one genre. At its heart is a family saga, that of the family of a socialist vicar, Simeon Simcox and his two sons, Henry, a gifted though pretentious writer, and Fred, who is a local doctor in the town of Hartescombe. When Simeon dies, he leaves his shares in the brewery to Leslie Titmuss, a Conservative Cabinet Minister in the Thatcher government.
Titmuss’s meteoric rise through all the social classes in Britain gives Paradise Postponed a classic “rags to riches” angle, while Fred’s search for the reasons behind his father’s inexplicable behavior presents a classic “cozy mystery” plot line. And taken all together, the novel is, as Henry explains to Fred and Leslie, “a picture of our society, from top to bottom.” Beginning in the post-war era, Paradise Postponed deftly charts the radical changes
Alongside Henry, Fred, and Leslie, are a host of intriguing minor characters: Sir Nicholas Fanner and his difficult wife, Lady Grace, Simeon’s long-suffering wife Dorothy, the atheist Dr. Salter, from whom Fred learns his trade, and Dr. Salter’s daughter Agnes, who becomes involved with both Henry and Fred.
Mortimer constructs his narrative in two separate timelines, weaving dexterously between the two, building the story and its secrets layer by layer, all coming together in a highly satisfying crescendo.
If you need a break and a marvelous read, look no further than Paradise Postponed. If you are an Audible fan, try the audio version, narrated by Paul Shelley, who played Fred in the series. I’ve listened to that about 12 times… and I love it each time I do.
Other Books By John Mortimer
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