Book Review: “Fellow Passenger” by Geoffrey Household (1955)

Image result for household fellow passengerYet another first-hand account from a fugitive in danger, Fellow Passenger was as grand as Rogue Male and more lively than A Rough Shoot. The situations into which Household’s current runner—the Oxford-educated Ecuadorian-Englishman and possible Communist, Claudio Howard-Wolferstan—are so fantastic that they would have made an entertaining and comic thriller back in the day. From hiding out in a university boardroom’s secret wet-bar to sneaking passage on a ship to Russia, or from dressing up as a free-lance artist or faking his way as a turban-wearing Indian from the Philippines (who also happens to play Mexican dance tunes on his guitar), Howard-Wolferstan must do it all in order to escape the British dragnet and quite probably a death sentence for his supposed traitorous acts against the Crown.

I was curious early on, debating with myself whether it was OK or not for Household to tell his readers that Howard-Wolferstan eventually gets caught. After all, it constantly sat at the back of my mind, that no matter what disguise he donned or small job he took, he couldn’t remain there long. I felt this as a damper on some of the more suspenseful scenes, but after all, it’s a novel, and I never know the end from the beginning. Even in this one.

I’m not surprised that I’ve returned to Geoffrey Household so soon, even considering my very full schedule at the moment. His books—mid-sized novels, though totally un-chaptered—are fun, exciting, and just an absolute pleasure to read. I love the chase. I love the detailed descriptions of the alleyways in which he finds a close-cutting escape. And it doesn’t hurt that Household’s characters-on-the-run always have so much down time between scrapes in their treks across Europe that they can’t help but philosophize about their plights, about their politics, and about life and love and food and drink and religion and whatever else comes to mind or fits the occasion! Household’s characters are complete individuals with full backstories, and he takes us deep into their thoughts as they recount, step-by-step, their escape and the emotions they felt along the way.

In this novel, the protagonist tends to have looser morals than some of Household’s previous characters which I’ve met, sleeping around and drinking whenever he gets the chance. There were a few spots of rough language as well, but nothing you wouldn’t hear on PBS these days. Just bear that in mind. The introduction to my version stated that this was Household’s own personal favorite, and I can see why. It was a joy to read.

©2016 E.T.

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