Book review: When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow

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FOR many, Dan Rhodes has always been the master of highlighting the importance of love, kindness and selflessness by delighting in the entertaining territory of their prickly opposites.

He plays delicious games with the jagged risks that love drags along with it – particularly in books such as Anthropology and Marry Me – with a conciseness that would make a haiku master stammer with envy, and which has earned Rhodes an army of devoted, evangelical readers.

So it might seem surprising that Rhodes and Canongate have drifted apart, with the writer opting to publish his latest work himself. Then again, a few pages in and you’d forgive a publisher’s lawyer for coming over all shy.

When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow is a hilarious little story of how a fictionalised version of evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins and his put-upon “male secretary” Smee – a former internet troll – set off for the village of Upper Bottom to address the Women’s Institute but, due to blizzards, must lodge with a kindly vicar and his wife.

Rhodes lampoons his pompous protagonist mercilessly – the character is obsessed with Deal Or No Deal and boasts about his conclusive “experiments” (one involves a magnet and iron filings). Like many of the least pleasant members of society, the professor believes himself to be cordial and tolerant when in reality he is rude, ungrateful and risible.

And while Christians are usually ridiculed in popular culture as intolerant extremists or simpletons, here they are decent, reasonable folk.

As in all the best fables, our key characters learn a valuable lesson or two about life and their own attitudes. And unlike all the best fables, each chapter glistens with daft double entendres. It’s a read to make you chuckle.

Rhodes, meanwhile, has already posted out the last remaining copies from the first and only hardback print run. But there is an e-book and, hopefully, a wise publisher will get a paperback out soon. n