Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cultural amnesia anyone?

I've been slowly reducing a two-foot high pile of old TLSs; ripping out everything I might want to keep. The back page of the first I picked up featured a review of Clive James' memoirs by Christopher Hitchens. The first paragraph refers to James' aspiration "for a mass audience that would be large enough for his elite audience to despise". What happened to the truth at all costs? This copy was also first on the recycling pile.

After a while I took a break and looked at blogs. By coincidence, Conversational Reading was quoting James' latest, interminable review-essay on Exit Ghost:
In the last rumor I heard on the subject [of whether Roth is "in thrall to his virile member"], one of the most luxuriantly beautiful young Australian female film stars had thrown herself at Roth’s feet lightly clad — I mean she was lightly clad, not Roth’s feet — and demanded satisfaction.
And in the next paragraph:
Roth has been catnip for upmarket women all his life, and never not renowned for it. In London, when he lived there, Roth would enter a fashionable drawing room with Claire Bloom on his arm and you would wonder how he had got into the house without a band striking up "Hail to the Chief."
After a while I returned to the pile. Within minutes I opened an edition from February this year with a 5000-word headline review of The Life of Kingsley Amis. The subtitle sums up the review's theme: "Obsession with Kingsley Amis's private life has distorted appreciation of his work". Can you guess the name of the review's author?


  1. Anonymous11:30 pm

    As I've written elsewhere (please forgive the cross-commenting), "Re: Clives James on 'Exit Ghost': this novel is turning out to be a veritable Roach Motel for sloppy reviewers."

    And, "Are Clives James and Carlin Romano both clamoring for posthumous fellatio from Bella Abzug, or what?"

    That said, having read "Exit Ghost" and "Diary of a Bad Year," by Coetzee, I'm feeling a little nostalgic for the *homogendered* December/May narrative pairings of yesteryear: the crinkly-wise old writer (one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave) and his wide-eyed acolyte. With no mention of boobs or bottoms. (Not that that sounds interesting at all.)

    Isn't JS Foer about due to write something like that?

  2. Anonymous2:53 pm

    "'Exit Ghost': this novel is turning out to be a veritable Roach Motel for sloppy reviewers."


    Or, extending that badness, as an excuse for misinformed overviews of Roth's entire Zuckerman oeuvre, that seem to misread everything he has written before AND misrepresent Exit Ghost!

  3. Might be only loosely related to the topic, but I'm glad to read that someone else ends up with stacks of the TLS after falling behind for a few weeks. I've got half-read issues dating back to June in the bathroom, on the nightstand, on the hall table, and then there's the primary repository next to the recliner, so precariously high that makes me want to despair. What's worse is when I come across the article those issue contain on the Powell's Review-a-Day or through Arts & Letters Daily... I think, I could have read this in print three weeks ago! I still have yet to get to this James review, even though I've been following the Exit Ghost press (how could you not?) fairly closely.

  4. EJI, James' review of Exit Ghost isn't in the TLS - it's in the NYT.

    Also, I don't fall behind on TLSs, I just don't like to throw them out. I have clippings going back to when I first read it in the late 80s.

    You also remind me of Arts&Letters Daily, which used to be my favourite site until they revealed themselves to be bigoted, neocon/philistine propagandists.

  5. Just checked Amazon, & I see it should be Augie March. I also see that it is described as

    The Adventures of Augie March (Penguin Modern Classics) by Saul Bellow and Christopher Hitchens

    A little put off, I then spotted

    Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) by Saul Bellow and Martin Amis

    Poor Bellow has been hijacked. Hitchens has elsewhere apparently co-authored Brave New World & Brave New World Revisited, whilst being the sole author of the magisterial A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq.

  6. Shite, I think I might have posted that last one to the wrong thread. Should have been in C Amn 2.

  7. Andrew, try to look beyond those intros. Anyway, I'd go straight to the top with "Herzog" if I were you. And I like "More Die of Heartbreak" though everyone else seems not to rate it so highly. Or the stories even.

  8. Anonymous9:56 am

    "Try to look beyond those intros"? Try to find those intros - the new Penguin Modern Classic of Humboldt's Gift does indeed promise (or threaten, judging by some of the comments here) an introduction by Martin Amis, but it is entirely absent.

    More Die of Heartbreak, however, does have an Amis introduction. If you hate Amis, I wouldn't worry about it: mostly he just quotes great slabs of the book.

  9. I've ordered Herzog, anyway. I've not read any M Amis, John; just haven't felt any attraction towards his work, and the fragments I've seen of late with which to draw an impression of him I've found off-putting, specifically in his politically related comments, which seem to be those of an undignified lackey cosying up to and apologising for very charmless, insidious establishments.



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