Dan Rhodes – When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow (3 stars)

A broad farce focusing on an irascible character by the name of Richard Dawkins

Dan Rhodes – When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow

(Miyuki Books)

Dan Rhodes provides several reasons as to why this, his sixth novel, is his first to be self-published. Mainly, it’s a case of speed – going down the traditional route would involve a year-long delay between completion and publication; now we can enjoy the fruits of his labour a mere seven weeks after he’s finished. He also notes, half seriously, that ‘no publisher would dare to touch it for fear of being sued’ – perhaps something to do with the titular Professor being named Richard Dawkins.

The eminent evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist is on his way to deliver a speech in a middle-English region known as The Bottoms when he and his male secretary, Smee, are stranded in a blizzard. What follows is a broad Midsomer farce: Smee and the irascible Dawkins are forced to take shelter in the home of a retired vicar, suffering a series of escalating misadventures as they attempt to fulfil the Professor’s engagement.

There are scattered splashes of brilliance throughout When the Professor...: the ‘thrice-divorced’ Dawkins is so scientifically minded he refers to his wives by number; he makes frequent and hilarious references to his ‘good friends’ Martin Amis, Lynne Truss and AC Grayling; and there’s a beautifully absurd, typically Rhodesian episode involving Smee, his ex-wife and a snotty nose. Sadly, for every moment of wit, there’s also an over-abundance of Are You Being Served?-style innuendo – The Bottoms are repeatedly plundered for puerile puns (‘we must reach Upper Bottom’), while one tediously overlong scene involves a cross purposes conversation about houseplants and genitalia.

It’s tempting to give Rhodes the benefit of the doubt and view When the Professor... as a pastiche of bawdy British sensibilities; indeed, if you read between the lines, you can sense a deep familiarity with (and affection for) quintessentially British elements: silly placenames, ITV game shows, village pubs, holidays ruined by bad weather and a fundamentally blithe and upbeat elderly rural class. That said, if references to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy make you wince instead of giggle, this one’s probably not for you.

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