Danish writer C P Pedrik is best known as the author of The Ignoble Trilogy, the exhaustive yet entertaining exploration of the life of Thomas Ignoble, a character whose remarkable qualities lie in his marvellous mediocrity. There has also been a lot of interest, of late, in Pedrik’s other works, from the two novellas – A Mouse for Magda (mentioned here) and Three Halves of the Same Fruit (not mentioned anywhere) – to longer works such as Alastair, Barbara and the Forty Sheaves of Wheat and, now, The Chronicles of Dorothy Pepperstone.
The latter – often seen as an early, flawed model for The Ignoble Trilogy – has just been translated into English for the second time, in what seems like yet another misguided attempt to resussicate a stuffed toy. The Chronicles of Dorothy Pepperstone is, for the first four hundred pages at least, majestically poor. After reading it in the original Danish my wife shrugged her shoulders and made a noise roughly equivalent to a family of rats being trodden on by an adolescent rhinoceros. Her wordless criticism speaks volumes. Pedrik, at his best, silently stuns his readers into compliance with a dazzling network of sober themes, planted like bulbs under the earth of his initially dreary, but increasingly fertile prose. Pedrik at his worst looks like he is better, but isn’t. In The Chronicles of Dorothy Pepperstone he actively seeks to thrill, but positively fails to excite, though bolstered by the sort of plot that The Ignoble Trilogy might give its front teeth, back yard and middle fingers for.
Dorothy Pepperstone’s life bridges a rushing river of a time period. Born in 1880, she dies in 1969, after a two-hour tussle with a tiger (described in roughly two hundred pages: the novel’s definite highlight). Earlier on she flirts with various political stances – and a range of dull, clever men. She is a feminist – but not a suffragette. ‘Democracy is a sham’, she says: ‘if I had my way only four hundred people would get the vote. Not half men, half women – simply the cleverest people, of either sex’. The problem is that Pepperstone struggles to define cleverness; or to find anyone that is, ultimately, really worthy of this special vote. ‘Men and women are equal’ she is forced to conclude – ‘equally stupid’.
This is just a snapshot of a character that ought, really, to be interesting. She has so much more going for her than Thomas Ignoble. But this is not where Pedrik’s talent lies. He is a writer of supremely eventless stories. Pepperstone is too much for him. Her life moves too fast. By some standards, she is, admittedly, still trundling along in one of the central lanes – but in comparison to Ignoble she is a cheetah to his old man with heavy shopping. And this doesn’t suit Pedrik at all. His flow relies on slow motion. Don’t let a plot get in his way!