Saturday, 2 July 2011

"Cards of Identity" by Nigel Dennis

Just occasionally one comes across a book which it is very difficult to categorise or describe. Cards of Identity is one such.

Nigel Dennis was born in 1912 and died in 1989. Along the way he lived in many different places, including Germany and America. He was a book critic, journalist, columnist, novelist and playwright. Cards of Identity is published by Penguin Classics as a novel, though I believe it also did well as a stage adpatation.

The plot of the book, such as it is, revolves around the summer get-together of the Identity Club and the playing out of three case studies in particular. The first is an inspired bit of nonsense of imagined ritual revolving around badgers. The second pokes fun at the rather serious business of sexology, while the third hints at dark Stalinist undercurrents within a monsatery setting. "Identity" is the key word throughout, with some people deliberately pretending to be other people (whose names they have often been given by ohers) and others apparently succumbing to some sort of hypnosis into believing that they really are other people.

Beyond saying that the book is clearly intended to be a comedy and is indeed very funny in parts, it is difficult to pin down the style. To say that it is "nonsense" prose is insufficient; it is much greater than that. A pretentious PhD student might decsribe it as deconstructionist. I will say only that it has overtones of The One Way Pendulum, The Bed Sitting Room, Beyond the Fringe, and even perhaps looks forward to Monty Python.

I am very glad to have come across this book, having previously heard nothing of either it or its author. Do try it. In in increasingly bland and anodyne world, it is overwhelmingly different.

1 comment:

Karyn said...

You make it sound very interesting. I've checked my shelves and found I have a copy, so I'll take your advice and try reading it in the next few weeks.