Alexander (Louis) Theroux Diane Johnson - Essay

Diane Johnson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Wogs" are what English bigots call dark-skinned non-Englishmen. [Alexander Theroux's first novel Three Wogs] is a book in which types of English bigot—old ladies, aristocrats, working men—encounter three Wogs—a Chinese, an Indian, and an African. It is not a novel but three long stories, successful in varying degrees, given the initial romantic proposition that all Wogs are good, because they are uncorrupted by civilization. And all Englishmen, supposedly civilized, are bad, premises one doesn't really bother to challenge in a comic and highly stylized work like this. Because English bigots are uncomfortably like American ones, it is alarming enough without trying to be believable.

In the first story, Mrs. Proby, American Alexander Theroux's first target, "gets hers": a fatal blow-dart from Mr. Yunnum Fun, her grocer, to whom she has been systematically rude for years. This seems to me at least partly to justify her apprehensions about him ("He's sneaky"). In the third story a posh homosexual cleric tries to dissuade his African choirmaster from marrying. The best story describes an exchange between a young red-neck named Roland and a saintly little Indian named Dilip at a train depot….

A cautionary word about the style, which at its best, offers happy surprises; at other times exasperation…. The language is always interesting and can be rewarding. But you have to be in the mood.

Diane Johnson, "Wog Good, Us Bad," in Book World—Chicago Tribune (© 1972 Postrib Corp.; reprinted by permission of Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post), Vol. VI, No. 7, February 13, 1972, p. 8.