Robert Nye Paul West - Essay

Paul West

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In the main, ["Falstaff" is] a fresco of groinwork, more monotonous than inventive, from a first-person Falstaff. He is worth hearing from because, as the Shakespearean scholar, John Dover Wilson puts it, we find it exhilarating to watch a being free of all conventions, codes and moral ties, who nonetheless wins us with "his superb wit, his moral effrontery, his intellectual agility, and his boundless physical vitality."

Well now, Nye's rampant loudmouth, while certainly a lord of misrule, a pastmaster of civil and military disobedience and a self-stroking hyperbole, isn't so much intellectually agile as ramshackle and offhand, and his wit is heartiness dolled-up….

It's like being pounded at by an Ancient Mariner turned satyr. For all his procedural antics (portrait of the artist as a self-conscious tub of lard), his quotations from Shakespeare and his Tiresias S. Eliot pose, this Falstaff wears his welcome out. Talk of maypoles, bananas, Italian dildoes and Norfolk loaves cannot disguise his relentless empty-headedness over 452 pages. A Scotsman, Nye has written a novel of the type that British taste never seems to grow out of: Philistine knockabout, complete with cakes and ale, and not an idea in sight, its patron saint not Rabelais but Terry-Thomas. (p. 38)

Paul West, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 7, 1976.