authors index

books index



A Melon For Ecstasy

click to enlarge

Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973
(first published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1971)
price: 35p; 176 pages

The blurb on the back:

Humphrey Mackevoy is obsessed by trees. He's driven wild by their green leafiness and soft sighings.
At night he escapes from Mummy to keep tryst with his loves. Particularly with the tall, slender laburnum... until Labby is cut down, that is.
But a censorious world finds out about Humphrey's dark desires and sends him to prison...
Poor Humphrey.

opening lines:
I am just back from the garden. The moonlight is bright enough to write by, and casts the shadow of my tree - sleeper's head across a pillow - over the page. My thighs are still cold from the bark, and that instrument of my pleasure is tenderly vibrating.

A woman for duty,
A boy for pleasure,
But a melon for ecstasy.
           - Old Turkish proverb

Is there a better book on this website? Quite possibly not. This is a work of such startling genius that one can scarcely believe it was out of print for years. Fortunately it was reissued under the Prion Humour Classics imprint in 2002, so you have no excuse for not buying it, falling in love with it and spreading the word to everyone you meet. Complete strangers will thank you forever.

Our hero is Humphrey Mackevoy, a man who can only achieve sexual satisfaction by raping trees. That's the premise; from there, all else flows naturally. The increased incidence of holes bored into the trunks of local trees, all of them thirty-three inches from the ground at an angle of between fifteen and twenty degrees to the horizontal, attracts the suspicion of the police, infuriates the Council, who see it as vandalism, and excites the ornithological society, who believe it indicates the return to the British Isles of the fabulously rare Crested Woodpecker. Mackevoy himself is more concerned with the pain inflicted by old splinter wounds and by the new policy of spraying trees. Then we have the murderous power struggle between local councillors, a prison chaplain dedicated to making the Gospel story more relevant by rewriting it as a Western (Posse from Galilee) and as science fiction (Jesus and the Red Planet), a sex-crazed sixteen-year-old girl desperate to get laid by anyone ... and much, much more.

Really, this is stupendous stuff. Written in the form of letters, journals, newspaper articles and the like, it covers an extraordinary cast of characters, whilst reserving its finest flights of poetic imagination for Mackevoy himself. His ruminations on the particular appeal of various species of tree are amongst the most elegant pieces of prose you can imagine. And the accounts of the sex are enough to make you wonder whether it mightn't be worth experimenting:

Lasciviously I turned my face, brushing the cold bark with my lips, and began to explore its texture with my tongue. And you couldn't stop me, my laburnum, you with your branches pinioned in the air, leaving your trunk so bare, so bare, so unprotected, so vulnerable... (p.30)

Is it just me, or does that not make the sap rise?

I don't think Messrs Fortune and Wells collaborated on any other major piece, but presumably you'll know their individual work anyway, Fortune most famously in association with John Bird on TV, and the late John Wells in Private Eye. This actually has little in common with either body of work, but then I don't know what I would compare it with. I sha'n't bother trying, because there's no need: it's a unique and strangely beautiful book that defies categorization.


Like this? Try this...

Auberon Waugh, A Bed of Flowers