My problem is that I am not frightfully interested in anything, except myself. And of all forms of fiction, autobiography is the most gratuitous. -- Lord Malquist
To sum up: Muffins with Malquist, into coach, knock down woman, horses bolt, see Laura drunk outside Ritz, one shoe off, as it turns out, and Rollo, arrive home, cowboy rubbing wife's bottom, shooting, Risen Christ enters, cowboys leave, row in bedroom, fall in bath, General comes, Jane and Malquist leave, Marie dead, hit General, bomb ticking...
The quote above does a good job of synopsizing Lord Malquist & Mr Moon, Stoppard's only novel to date. Published in 1966 by Anthony Blond, the book is very much of its time, though still enjoyable today (if you can get your hands on a copy.) It's a funny, absurd, but ultimately wearying tale, rather like a Monty Python sketch that goes on too long.
The plot sounds more deranged than it really is. Stoppard keeps a number of jokes running the length of the book, and jokes are nearly always ruined in summary. But here goes...
The novel opens with young Mr Moon, a modern-day Boswell and freelance historian, attending to the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of the ninth earl of Malquist as the two of them ride in a horse-drawn carriage driven by O'Hara, a black Irish Cockney Jew. Moon carries in his pocket a bomb, a gift from an eccentric uncle, and he plans to detonate it at some opportune moment, as a protest against the rapid pace of modern life..or something. In the meantime, the coach accidentally runs over a woman, but Lord Malquist pays no mind.
When they arrive at Mr Moon's home, they discover Moon's young wife, Jane, having her buttocks massaged by a cowboy named Jasper Jones. Jones' contact with Jane is probably more intimate than any Moon has had with her. Despite having been living as husband and wife for quite some time, their marriage has yet to be consummated. Jane enjoys flirting shamelessly with Jones and Lord Malquist, but she can't stand to be touched by Moon.
Another cowboy, this one named Slaughter, arrives on horseback and starts a shootout with Jones. Moon's French maid, Marie, is struck and killed during the gun battle. Also on the premises at the time is the Risen Christ, a donkey-riding Irish messiah in search of a multitude to which to preach. To round things out, a character known as the General arrives, apparently a frequent customer of Marie's after-hours, and possibly erotic, enterprise.
After an argument with Jane in the bedroom and the bath (during which he cuts his foot on a shard of glass), Moon watches Jane and Malquist leave together. In a jealous fit, Moon ends up killing the General by hitting in the head with a bottle. He then sets the timer on his bomb.
His notebook having been burned, Moon attempts to reconstruct the days' events in a freshly typed version of his journal. Interrupted by the Risen Christ, he sends him to dispose of Marie's and the General's bodies, now wrapped in a carpet and flung across the back of the donkey. When Moon finishes his typing, he walks to Lord Malquist's house and finds the place surrounded by undercover cops, all of whom are waiting to arrest an anarchist who wants the ninth earl dead. Inside, Moon finds Lady Malquist recovering from a hangover, and he winds up being seduced by her.
Though momentarily invigorated by this encounter, Moon leaves the Malquist abode to continue his bombing mission. He joins the crowd attending the Funeral of the Year, as do Lord Malquist and Jane, the Risen Christ and his donkey, the two cowboys, plus Malquist's pet lion, Rollo. There is pandemonium and murder, and Moon detonates his bomb. It explodes with the force of a rubber balloon.
His grand gesture proven futile and pathetic, Moon, Malquist and Jane return to Malquist's house, where they learn that the earl is essentially bankcrupt and that the check Moon received as payment for chronicling the earl's life has bounced. After saying goodbye to his wife, Malquist, Malquist's wife and the Risen Christ, Moon heads home in O'Hara's carriage. Before they get far, a Mr. Cuttle, the husband of the woman run over by the carriage in the first scene, throws a bomb onto Moon's lap. This explosive device proves most effective, "dispersing Moon and O'Hara and bits of pink and yellow wreckage at various points along the road between the Palace and Parliament Square."
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION
ONLINEBoswell's Life of Johnson -- HTML version of the biography, currently encompassing 1709 through 1763.
Johnson Society of Australia -- It may sound vaguely like the punchline to an off-color joke, but this association promotes the study and enjoyment of the life and works of Dr Samuel Johnson, his biographer, James Boswell, and their circle.
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Last modified 5/1/04 by Michael Berry