When Robert Purcell, aged eight, read his father's entry in Who's Who, he saw his own life unfolding before him. Like his father, he'd get a first in Law, then enjoy a distinguished career as a barrister and a judge. For a long time, everything went to plan. Then his life fell apart. He committed a crime. He went to prison.
Now he's out, his wife has told him to write an account of who he is and why he is who he is. What drove him to his crime? To an English gentleman who loathes the confessional culture such emotional striptease is torture. Nevertheless, A Short Gentleman is that confession. An intellectual giant but an emotional pygmy, Robert struggles to come to terms with the forces that brought him down: Elizabeth, the wife who wanted him to change, Judy Page, the ex-girlfriend who came back to haunt him, Pilkington, the childhood bully who grew into an adult bully, Mike Bell, the old friend Robert was always happy to patronise. Finally, there's his father, who proved, at the end of his life, not to be the man Robert thought he was.
Despite everything, Robert remains heroically determined to carry on being the same magnificently pompous and self-righteous man he always was, utterly resistant to therapy, change and the emotional demands of the opposite sex.