Book Review – THE HIPPOPOTAMUS by Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry The Hippopotamus

Read the novel before you see the movie. Stephen Fry’s charmingly misanthropic send-up of the English mystery, The Hippopotamus is now a critically acclaimed major motion picture.

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The Hippopotamus Synopsis: 

Ted Wallace is an old, sour, womanising, cantankerous, whisky-sodden beast of a failed poet and drama critic, but he has his faults too. Fired from his newspaper, months behind on his alimony payments and disgusted with a world that undervalues him, Ted seeks a few months repose and free drink at Swafford Hall, the country mansion of his old friend Lord Logan. But strange things have been going on at Swafford. Miracles. Healings. Phenomena beyond the comprehension of a mud-caked hippopotamus like Ted.

With this funny and deliciously readable novel, Stephen Fry takes his place as one of the most talented comic novelists of his generation.

Unabridged Audiobook: 9 hours and 1 minute
Narrated By: Stephen Fry (Random House AudioBooks)


The Hippopotamus is not for the faint-hearted or prudish. Fry’s description of his characters’ intimate encounters are very explicit, but this same objective scrutiny and satirical dissection applied to characters’ motives and behaviours yield some brilliantly funny passages. Add to the sparkling and witty prose, the narration by Fry himself, and the result is me giggling like a crazy person sitting by myself in my car during peak hour traffic.

>> Listen to an audio sample

Ted Wallaces’ rants about society figures and past acquaintances are delectably dark and razor sharp – the ferocity with which he deprecates others along with himself is awe-inspiring.

But as with any person that takes pride in being a curmudgeonly brute, the circumstances Wallace finds himself in lead to a self-awakening of sorts. Low and behold the tables turn, with the habitually deluded shining a light on the delusions of those respectable folk around him.

If you spend your life on a moral hill-top, you see nothing but the mud below. If, like me, you live in the mud itself, you get a damned good view of clear blue sky and clean green hills above. There’s none so evil-minded as those with a moral mission, and none so pure in heart as the depraved.”

The ostensible superficiality of the characters featured within it (a colourful and eclectic bunch), belies the depth of meaning and heart to be found within The Hippopotamus. This is not quite ‘meaning of life’ territory, but the subjects of human identity, courage and endeavour are certainly taken for a spin.

Some may say it’s contrived – I’d say well of course it is, the level and complexity of the contrivance is what makes it so hilarious!

I was thoroughly entertained by The Hippopotamus written by word master Stephen Fry. Wit and pathos bursting from a deliciously satirical and decadent package.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Genre: Drama, Humour, Audio, Mystery, Literature

The Hippopotamus Book Review
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Now a Major Motion Picture

This is the first Stephen Fry novel to be transferred to the big screen. Directed by John Jencks and starring three-time Olivier Award winner Roger Allam as the disgruntled, cantankerous, semi-famous poet Ted Wallace who is hired to investigate strange doings at Lord and Lady Logan’s country manor, Swafford Hall. Matthew Modine plays incredibly rich Lord Michael Logan, whose generous dinners and parties at Swafford Hall have slowly collected a select group of devoted followers. Not so much for the parties themselves but for the supposed miracles that occur at them. Fiona Shaw co-stars as the Lady Logan and Tim McInnerny as a newly arrived partygoer. Producers are Jay Taylor and Alexa Seligman. Read more about the film at Deadline.

About the Author & Narrator, Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing for stage, screen, television and radio he has contributed columns and articles for numerous newspapers and magazines, and has also written four successful novels and a series of memoirs.

The Hippopotamus Book

Check out Stephen Fry’s website or connect with him on Twitter.

Other reviews of The Hippopotamus

Goodreads, The IndependentLA TimesKirkus Reviews