The Fabulous Englishman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Pieced together from letters, reminiscences, documents, and diaries by the protagonist’s friend, this novel spans fifteen years in the life of Christopher Isles, once a promising young writer and a celebrity, now forgotten. He has settled for a boring advertising job and a disappointing marriage, fathered three adorable daughters, and acquired countless rejection slips. Throughout the years, he has corresponded with one of his last fans, a Prague bookseller, and collected news items about Czechoslovakia, to keep alive the memory of his beautiful Czech love, Milena, who was killed in 1968 during the Soviet invasion of the country. Although Christopher has never met the bookseller, he finds solace in sharing with him his most private thoughts-- his memories of Milena, his growing disillusionment with himself and his frustrating attempts to make a literary comeback.

When a chance to collaborate on a biography of fascinating Dr. Augustus Kuhn, a dealer in gold, falls through, Christopher, to get over his disappointment, travels to Prague to meet his pen pal. There he learns that the bookseller has been dead for many years--his friends continued the correspondence with Christopher in a desperate attempt to hold onto their only connection with the free West. This revelation ends Christopher’s illusory friendship. In Prague, he also learns about Milena’s last days, and that helps him finally to accept her death.

In his third novel, McCrum has created a likable character who is thoroughly disappointed with his life yet still able to laugh at himself and press on. In addition, this novel deftly captures the explosive days following the Soviet invasion of Prague and the stifling atmosphere there in subsequent years.