Book review: Dear Lumpy, Roger Mortimer and Louise Mortimer

A DEFTLY witty ­collection of letters from exasperated father Roger Mortimer to his wastrel son Charlie, Dear Lupin was one of the surprise hits of last year.

Dear Lumpy

Roger Mortimer and Louise Mortimer

Constable, £12.99

Nick Curtis

Now it turns out that Charlie/Lupin’s sister Louise/Lumpy had her own stash of letters from dad, and the selection presented here are just as drily funny, just as succinctly evocative, and arguably more moving than Lupin’s lot.

This is a rare case of a sequel being an equal, as the undertow of despair at Lupin’s dedicated fecklessness is replaced by a father’s deep affection for his youngest daughter. There is one genuinely wounded ­letter, where Roger (a former soldier, ex-PoW and racing correspondent for the Sunday Times) expresses the hurt he and his wife feel on learning that Louise has secretly married her none-too-popular fiancé, “Hot Hand Henry”.

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Otherwise, it’s a similar mix of dispatches from the gin ’n’ Jag stratum of English suburban life in the 1970s and 80s: racing, drinks parties, gossip, and the odd startling bit of casual prejudice.

Mortimer was a natural, less-is-more comedian, with an innate sense of rhythm and superb turn of phrase. A cumulative portrait emerges of him as a self-aware Mr Pooter, sitting down to write while a series of smelly, mess-making dogs and an unruly wife clatter around in the background. That long-suffering spouse and “ever-loving mother”, Cynthia, is variously described as being “crusty”, “nervy”, “on belligerent form”, “slightly controversial” or “making low whirring noises”. She gets worse after 6pm, the implication being that drink has been taken, and talks “utter balls”.

Four years before his death in 1991, Roger and his wife find themselves trapped in a restaurant in Hungerford, while outside Michael Ryan shoots dead 16 people and wounds 15, before killing himself. Yet the overall mood of the book remains buoyant, in love with life and language, the letters expressing durable bonds of family affection that you just wouldn’t get from an email. «