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Revenge: A Novel Hardcover – July 16, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fry is a well-known British comic actor (he was the detective in Gosford Park) who has written several comic novels that are sometimes extremely funny, sometimes simply outrageous and over the top. In this, his first attempt at a serious thriller, he begins well, but ends up going over the top again in a different way. His hero, Ned Maddstone, is a delightful young man, gifted but diffident in that special English way, and very much in love. By an extraordinary set of coincidences, a trap set for him by envious schoolmates and a rival in love combines with an explosive secret in the life of a powerful British security official to send Ned off to perdition in a sinister sanatorium on a Baltic island where, forgotten to the world, he is exiled for nearly 20 years while his personality disintegrates. A meeting with another lost soul rebuilds his brain and will to live and inspires an escape; whereupon a very different Ned is loosed upon the world, a man of mystery and infinite wealth whose only aim is to fetch death and disaster on those who brought him down as a youth. Fry achieves some gripping scenes, and Ned, until his ultimate turnaround, remains endearing and believable. After that the novel becomes a highly schematic bloodbath, and some rather glib philosophizing about privacy and the Internet cannot make the final scenes seem other than heavily portentous. Fry is a writer of real talent and ideas, but needs a stern editor to save him from his excesses which on the screen would be called overacting.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The victim of a schoolboy prank that goes bad and ultimately involves the British Intelligence Service, Ned Maddstone finds himself imprisoned in a private lunatic asylum, where he is kept in a drugged state for ten years before he is allowed contact with anyone else. For the next decade, he falls under the tutelage of a man known only as Babe, an elderly spy who teaches him the ways of the world and aids his escape, setting him up with near-limitless funds. The second half of the novel follows Ned as he wreaks his vengeance on all those involved with his mistaken arrest and imprisonment. This bald description does not do justice to the novel's brilliant execution, diminished only by a protagonist who is not very likable and the absence of true conflict as he carries out his revenge. Still, this is a highly intelligent and well-written story by British actor Fry (The Liar, etc.), the author of three previous comic novels and a memoir. Recommended for all public libraries. Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (July 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375506233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375506239
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,350,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By oh_pete on August 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Ned Maddstone has it all, or at least enough to make him feel reasonably confident about his prospects: a wealthy father in the government, a fifth-generation place waiting for him at Oxford, and a girlfriend who considers herself "the luckiest, happiest, most dementedly in-love girl in the world" because of him. He's also Head Boy at his English prep school, a position likely to make an enemy or two, whether today or in 1980 when the book opens. After Ned commits a small, but not easily forgiven offense against a classmate, a simple prank to defame him coincides with a much greater secret service operation and he ends up locked in a psychiatric hospital for the better part of two decades.
Bereft of human contact for much of that time, except for that of his captors, Ned forgets who he is until he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a fellow patient named Babe. A crusty old buggar is Babe, and he effectively pulls Ned back from the brink of madness (but not quite all the way--that's where the "Revenge" part comes in). From Babe and the limited hospital library Ned receives a more intensive education than he was ever likely to get at Oxford--ask yourself how you'd spend all those years--becoming a master chess player and attaining fluency in over a half-dozen languages along the way while he prepares for life after his harrowing escape.
Fry's is an intellect which far surpasses that of most of his critics and, we must admit, many of his admirers as well. This book is an attempt at something much darker and less outrageous than his previous work. In so doing he mutes his narrative persona far more than in any of his previous work, which was at first slightly disappointing to me as a loyal fan.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By M. Masulis on July 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have no idea what the previous reviewers were thinking, but it certainly had nothing to do with the book, Revenge--or as it was entitled in the original, Stars' Tennis Balls.
Fry has never hidden the fact that this is the Count Monte Cristo story, and neither was he going to amend Dumas' storyline by much. It was simply reworked in a, well, very Stephen Fry-esque way. In order to understand it, you need to have known Stephen Fry and his work (including that in acting) for some time. He truly is a representative of a near-extinct type, the well-rounded man.
Revenge/Stars' Tennis Balls has a wealth of autobiographical elements by this rather troubled man, but he never loses his sense of humour about it, nor does it become annoying. It is a virtuoso's play with language that also serves as an entertaining read.
I finished this book in one night and recommend Fry's other works (Hippopotamus, Moab Is My Washpot, Making History, Liar, Paperweight), including his wonderful acting in the famous BBC series, Blackadder. To appreciate them, though, you need to be a bit of a Britophile.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By bensmomma on August 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The first fifty-or-so pages of this novel are witty, and comic, as those familiar with Frye's previous work will expect. Then, the hero Ned Maddstone is betrayed (a la the Count of Monte Cristo), spends 20 years unjustly locked in a mental institution, and returns to seek his revenge. I've noticed that previous reviewers who liked the Flippant Frye were disturbed by the Spooky, Scary Frye who replaces him in mid-book.
Let me give you another perspective: I think this was a change for the better. The young, flippant, self-centered, class-bound comic characters of the introduction made my poor Midwestern soul want to slap them silly. I can only take so much petulance. Over the course of the book, through the darker events, the charcters manage to grow and change. They are no longer twits. In their place, there is sharp writing, deft plotting (it may be Dumas' plotting, but it is still deft), and much excitement.
In short, this book managed to surprise me even though I knew the plot outline in advance--and how often can you say that anymore?
A final caveat - the violence is quite graphic, even sadistic (although believable in its way). Stay away if you don't like that sort of thing, and pray that Mr. Frye has a really good therapist.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on March 2, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Readers familiar with the plot of Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, about the unjust political imprisonment of sailor Edmond Dantes in post-Napoleonic France, will not be surprised by the various turns taken in author Stephen Fry's modern version of the tale. When the book begins, Ned Maddstone, the seventeen-year-old son of a Tory MP, is bound for Oxford and, almost certainly, for a life marked by as much success as he has already enjoyed: a cricket-playing future Head Boy and member of a sailing club, Ned is polite and good looking and newly in love, and he has the easy grace that comes with aristocracy. He would never dream of offending, but in his unselfconscious perfection Ned manages to do just that, and he consequently falls victim to a plot hatched by three jealous acquaintances.

Though Fry's plot will not surprise, his reworking of the Dumas classic is cleverly done. Loyal Bonapartists have become IRA sympathizers, and treasures are now hoarded in Swiss bank accounts. Most charmingly, in the latter part of the book Ned is released into a gadgetized world that has been altered beyond measure by the computer revolution, reminding us of just how much our own lives have changed since 1980.

Fry's book is a good read, though the animosity Ned unwittingly provokes in his acquaintances seems unrealistically ferocious. (I do not know whether this might be said also of the original.) Readers who do not know what to expect of the book are likely in particular to enjoy it.

Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece
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