It comes as no surprise then when this novel ends on a hospital ward. Indeed Bradbury makes no bones about the fact that the novel is how he imagined his future self to have evolved.
Taken as a whole, it’s a curious novel. In the central character of proudly libertarian academic Professor Stuart Treece, Bradbury presents the reader with a character as enigmatic as they come. On the brink of middle-age and living a life of self-imposed asceticism, Treece is a man without an anchor, a man who merely exists in a void that is 1950s England.
Clinging to the only fixed reference point in his life – his enlightened self – Treece watches the world around him with a mixture of detachment and fascination. Through Treece’s conscience a rather cynical at times nihilistic vision of the world emerges. It’s as if the academic is playing out some kind of grand social experiment, living out his own hypotheses and by doing so proving his own worst fears.
Treece teaches in a provincial backwater university somewhere in the North. Bradbury creates a quite stultifying world of meaningless seminars and equally meaningless tea dances. Blimey it really is a flat and unprofitable world.
Salvation is offered in the person of Emma Fielding, an attractive undergraduate whose sensitivity threatens to overwhelm both herself and her much older lover. As one might expect it’s a love affair that is doomed from the start.
Although there are certainly some well realised scenarios in the novel, its young author does tend to polemicise at times. A society and culture bereft of moral and artistic integrity is a reccurring theme throughout the book. Treece and Emma apart, a wide range of characters populate the book without ever really truly developing.
Characters such as the grotesque Louis Bate - the original working class intellectual and rejected suitor of Emma - are picked up and dropped with an absent-mindedness that is perhaps forgivable for a first-time novelist.
The same is true of Willoughby, a charismatic young lecturer-cum-writer who turns up late on the novel presumably as an antithesis to Treece’s staid, middle class respectability. At times one feels that Bradbury is struggling to round off these characters and fully realise what each one represents.
That is not to say that Eating People is Wrong is nothing more than a piece of juvenilia and should be treated as such. Far from it. In Treece Bradbury creates a man of his time, one for whom the future will almost certainly overthrow his notions as time moves inexorably on.
Now it’s always useful of course to expose the hypocrisy and smugness of the academic liberal of which Treece no doubt is a prime example. It can also be quite humorous too. Especially when, as In this particular novel, the foundations of those assumptions are already rocking.
If nothing else Bradbury’s novel reminds one that between the old and the new lies a nebulous hinterland which can prove a rather difficult place to abandon.