HIPPO CRITICAL

WIT, CYNICISM AND ILL WILL ARE THE VIRTUES OF AN ENGLISH NOVEL

Some idler is sure to begin a critique of Stephen Fry's funny, sharp-tongued novel The Hippopotamus (Random House; 290 pages; $21) by referring loftily to the title character as "the eponymous hippopotamus." Shun this pedant, who should consider another line of work. Read the novel, however. Its virtues are cynicism and ill will, directed energetically at all that is trendy and modern, and embodied in the blubbery, whiskified carcass of an out-of-date poet named Ted Wallace.

Wallace is the novel's Hippo, so nicknamed decades before as an undergraduate (the reference is to T.S. Eliot's doggerel, "The hippopotamus' day/ Is passed in...

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