Introduction by Eva Brann
In the author's own words: "This is a strange book…an emotional melodrama, complete with a Medusa villainess, an honest simpleton of a hero, and an angelic if only anthropoid heroine, all functioning in the two dimensional world of the old Lyceum poster or the primitive fresco…where an angel may outsize a church, and where a man may marry a monkey on a foggy day." —from John Collier's "A Looking Glass"
When Alfred Fatigay returns to his native London, he brings along his trustworthy pet chimpanzee Emily who, unbeknownst to Fatigay, has become civilized: literate, literary—and in love with Fatigay himself. After Emily meets Alfred's fiancée Amy Flint, a 1920's "modern woman," she sets out to save her beloved from Amy's cold grip. "Emily is the perfect outside observer," writes Eva Brann in her introduction, "because she is an African in Europe, a female in a man's world, a servant to liberated sophisticates, and above all an old-fashioned creature in a modern world."
John Collier (1901-1980) was born in Britain, but spent much of his life in the U.S., where he wrote screenplays for Hollywood (The African Queen, Sylvia Scarlet, and I Am a Camera among them) and short stories for the New Yorker and other magazines. He was also a poet, editor, and reviewer.
Listen to Nancy Pearl tout the book on NPR
"A work of genius" —The Boston Globe
"From the first sentence of the novel the reader is aware that he is in the presence of a magician…[Collier] casts a spell and he does so always with a smile." —Paul Theroux
"A wayward masterpiece…Whatever this volume has cost you, it is, believe me, a great bargain." —Anthony Burgess
"It is impossible to convey the subtle wit which makes you laugh out loud, the beauty and penetrating satire which blend so perfectly into its brilliance." —Booklist
"The whole is written with sly humor throughout and is illuminated by splendid similes and metaphors which mark the author as a true humorist." —New York Times
Good for the Season…But too good to be left on the beach
By Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe
Every other summer or so I reread His Monkey Wife by John Collier and urge others to do so, too. The stumbling block has been that the book has been out of print for years. I, of course, am far too wise in the ways of the world to lend anyone my own copy. ('Never lend books,' advised Anatole France, 'for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those that other people have lent me.') So, I am happy to report that Collier's work has just returned to print thanks to Paul Dry Books.
The novel is one of the great idiosyncratic comedies in English — a designation, incidentally, that is a literary category in my mind. To it belong other such noble curiosities as Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm, Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds, G. V. Desani's All About H. Hatter, J. R. Ackerley's Hindoo Holiday, L. Rust Hill's How to Retire at Forty-one, and — well, we'll leave the full list for another day. Suffice it to say that what distinguishes the books in this category is not only that each is so idiosyncratic as to be sui generis, but also that the fulcrum of their comedy is cultural piety and the Western literary tradition. (It may be, alas, that in this day of enlightenment, the works can be enjoyed only by readers of 'a certain age.')
His Monkey Wife is written in high-flown, often urgent, prose. It is a love story and concerns Mr. Fatigay, a schoolmaster, and his 'petite, dark and vivacious' disciple, Emily: the toast of the British Museum Reading Room and a chimpanzee. As in most love stories there are moments of passionate jealousy, longing, and fierce romantic intrigue, all conveyed with such a fine and delicate sensibility that one should, perhaps, be ashamed of oneself for laughing. But then, as P. G. Wodehouse observed, comedy is 'the kindly contemplation of the incongruous.'