Henry Farr is - or, as it turns out, is not - the 'Wimbledon Poisoner' of Nigel Williams's title. He is a Pooterish solicitor, middling and muddling his way through life; the plot concerns his repeated farcical failure to murder his awful wife, bumping off (he thinks) other innocent people instead. Then, as the plot unravels and a real poisoner shows his hand, Henry discovers that his wife is not so awful after all. Two kinds of decision mark the outset and outcome of this sequence of events, in the course of which Henry moves from tentative dimness to self-possession. In the book's opening words, 'Henry Farr did not, precisely, decide to murder his wife. It was simply that he could think of no other way of prolonging her absence from him indefinitely.' But when the book closes, Henry faces this very prospect of indefinite togetherness with equanimity: 'He thought about Elinor, and why he was still with her and what it would be like in the weeks and months and years to come ... Killing her would have been a very stupid thing to have done. There was, he decided, as he turned over to address himself to sleep, quite a lot of mileage in her yet.'
LRB 8 March 1990 | PDF Download