Falstaff

Written by Robert Nye
Review by Doug Kemp

First published in 1976, Nye’s rambling autobiographical musings of the Shakespearean figure Sir John Falstaff is surprisingly contemporary in its approach and style. In the middle of the 15th century, the ageing Falstaff dictates a meandering account of the main events of his life to a number of his secretaries, covering one hundred chapters. Its essence is based upon his relationship with Henry V, but the narrative is wholly discursive, sprawling and long-winded. Bawdy and scatological, it would have seemed even more indecent then to readers of nearly 40 years ago. There are distinct postmodern elements in the story, with one of the secretaries, Scrope, Falstaff’s stepson, making interpolations for the reader in recording Falstaff’s history. When he comments about the fantasies and exaggerations that the old man invents, the reader, even though it is a work of fiction, is somehow twice deceived and gets confused in a kind of metafiction maze. It is a fascinating book, learned and engaging, but by no means conventional storytelling fiction.