Ostrich Country, by David Nobbs

Published in 1968 and no longer in print, this is Nobbs' second novel and tells the story of Pegasus Baines, a nutrition scientist, who gives up his job and pursues his dream of becoming a chef, starting by working as a vegetable cook in a pub restaurant. Along the way he falls for the landlord's wife, but this relationship is complicated by the fact that he's also fallen for an old flame, and can't bring himself to tell either of them that he's chosen the other.

There are echoes of Perrin, Pratt and Simcock in this book, and there are definite Nobbsian turns of phrase, e.g. "He felt rather guilty about deceiving Jane, and rather guilty about not feeling more than rather guilty about it". We also get an Uncle Percy, and Tarragon Clump, whose family home is called the Clumpery. One section reminded me of the passage in the Pratt novel where Henry steps outside himself to realise how, despite events going on in the world which have huge significance, he can't think of anything but his girlfriend. This is when Pegasus tries to comfort someone whose child and husband have died:

"Pegasus saw himself in a flash, sitting on the edge of women's lives, saying 'poor old ...', and most of the time he himself responsible, but not this time, not very, just thoughtless and unobservant and stupid...

"Later Pegasus rang Paula and he told her about it all and he told her how you thought of yourself sitting there listening sympathetically, even as the story was told you were conscious of your own sympathy"

There is a fair amount of good stuff in here, although what don't really work are the dream passages, which maybe are meant to be some kind of metaphor for the problems Pegasus is facing, but didn't make a lot of sense. I just looked in his autobiography, and Nobbs doesn't say a lot about the book except that it works better if you read it without the dream stuff.

Completed : 19-Feb-2004

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