Ever since I discovered Dornford Yates I’ve had it in mind to try the world of Sapper – I bought a copy of ‘Bulldog Drummond’ about seven years ago but its contents remain a mystery to me still. This didn’t stop me finding the blurb for ‘The Female of the Species’ all but irresistible and it made all the way to my wish list where a very nice friend rescued it from limbo and presented it to me as a birthday present.
The thing that attracted me most to ‘The Female of the Species’ was that it sounded camper than a row of tents, and it’s fair to say it is that camp and more. I can’t say that it’s a great book, that it stands the test of time, that it isn’t really quite offensive in places, or that the plot is terribly convincing, but I still enjoyed it tremendously and might even bump ‘Bulldog Drummond’ up a few dozen places on my to be read list. (Although it doesn’t really do to rush these things and maybe seven years hasn’t been too long to sit on something...)
The plus side of Sapper is rip roaring adventure and action which just never stops with some nice period detail (albeit coupled with some crashing snobbery, but I like that too), enough in the way of humour and snappy dialogue to cover the bits which haven’t aged so well and a general sense of a damn good ride. The disclaimer comes with the admission that this is probably the first time I’ve ever been really uncomfortable with bad old fashioned racism in a book. Normally I’m of the opinion that the past is a different country and all that goes with that. There’s no point and no joy in judging past manners by present standards, but just occasionally something is so breathtakingly offensive that I can’t help but feel judgemental. So it is with Sapper and his attitudes regarding race, it wasn’t enough to spoil the book for me, but I’m aware that it would perhaps be more than enough to really upset a more sensitive and discerning reader.
And yet despite all that hedging and wondering I still think books like this have a definite place on my shelf, I enjoy reading them and value the little period details that make reading more ‘worthy’ books more rewarding. Mostly though it’s because I really love a good dollop of all action camp nonsense and ‘The Female of the Species’ ticked every box in that regard.