Success Stories: Literature and the Media in England, 1950-1959 Harry Ritchie (Faber£12.5()) The Second World War was a bad one for literature and it was not until the mid ‘50s that a distinctive new literary voice caught the reading public's imagination. When it did its influence was spectacular and. according to the persuasive argument ofllarry Ritchie. largely due to misreading and hype. First on the scene was Kingsley Amis‘s Lucky Jim. published in 1954. which got up the Establishment‘s noses for all the wrong reasons. But its impact was slight until the arrival ofC‘olin Wilson‘s padded bibliography. The Outsider. which was rapturously received and sold prodigiously. only to be comprehensively debunked a few months later. (‘lose on its heels came John ()sborne‘s Look Back in Anger which opened at the Royal Court on 13 May. 1956 (a fortnight before publication of The Outsider) but which. until Kenneth Tynan's effusive intervention. seemed destined to run for as long as Ben Johnson.
Osborne was the archetypal ‘Angry Young Man‘ and happy to take on the role. even though no one was quite sure what he was angry about. But as a literary movement the Angry Young Men (and one angry young woman. the precocious Shelagh Delaney) did not gel. and each of its members made it clear that they were not keen to join a club which would admit the others. Ritchie. through careful reading of the set texts and contemporary newspapers. shows how Osborne and Wilson in particular played up to the Press which at the time was only too happy to twist titles into headlines. Amis characteristically remained aloof and his career has blossomed. his early work enduring. Wilson. however. has been discredited and is reduced to producing supernatural pot-boilers. while Osborne‘s play does not stand up to scrutiny.
In this penetrating. frequently amusing account ofa movement that never was. an honourable note is struck by Alan Sillitoe who had
legitimate street cred and. in
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness ofthe Long-Distance Runner. knew how to transform it into art with a message. For the rest the last word lies with Amis whose rebellion was that of a realist rejecting modernism. whose utterances these days rather make a monkey ofthe pundits in the posh Sundays who saw Red in the class antics ofunluckyJim Dixon. (Alan Taylor)
The Lantern-Bearers and Other Essays by Robert Louis Stevenson Edited by Jeremy Treglown ((‘hatto £16.95) Do we need this book‘.’ Quite frankly. we do. So much of
l CHEWING GUM WITH EMILY PRAGER
Once upon a time, when the American satirist Emily Prager was barely out of diapers, she dictated a short novel to her mother called ‘Cinderella Goes to the Ball and Breaks her Leg’. Since that cute/precocious debut, Prager has proved that many folk are pumpkins.
Feet and slippers have long been a lixation in her liction. In one ot the stories in ‘A Visit to the Footbinder’ a conspiratorial silence surrounds the painful tootbinding of Chinese girls. In her new novel, ‘Clea and Zeus Divorce (Chatto £10.95)’, Clea’s petit deer-hoot boots are lrequently remarked on, and she is not averse to betting a kick at passers-by.
Moving from loot- to tore-play, Prager describes ‘Clea and Zeus‘ as ‘an anti-gravity love story’. And both literally and metaphorically that’s just what it is tor her two megastars exist in a sell-willed limbo, adritt from reality. Re-enacting their marital relationship on stage and screen tor public titillation Clea and Zeus ensure that the boundaries between pertormance and reality are lost. Intent upon describing ‘show business, what it's like trom the
Stevenson is out ofprint that one needs to comb the secondhand bookshops to uncover much of his work. Treglown. editor ofthe TLS. recognises in his informative introduction. that an authoritative Collected Works is overdue. But with that far off he has brought together in a handsome volume. meticulously accoutred. some of the best of RLS‘s published essays (and two previously unpublished). most ofwhich he wrote in a 15-year period. between studying for the Bar at Edinburgh and setting off for the South Pacific with his wife Fanny and her offspring. Here is Edinburgh's greatest writer in all his moods: playful. pensive. critical. angry. confessional. sober. joyful. waggish: turning his hand to whatever editor‘s whims blew his way. or to that which he felt compelled to write in order to repair an injustice. as in the case of that polemical tour de force. the Father Damien letter. This is a book to dip into and savour. Every page has a neat turn of phrase. an original observation. the benchmark of integrity. and the sure and sensitive touch of a master craftsman. (Jenni‘Allen)
inside‘, Prager creates two highly unstable protagonists, out at her own experience of the acting protesion which she gave up ten years ago, because it was ‘too mindless’.
Now she admits it has its advantages: ‘You can be President it you're an actor. If I’d known that then, I’d have stayed in it. I could have been leader of the world by now.‘
Clea and Zeus watch themselves watching themselves and Prager pinpoints image-oriented America as the cause at this modern-malaise vacuity. ‘During the Reagan era, everything became about image. He was a movie star, he is an image. Ideas were left lorthe waste-bin. When Gorbachev came over they said he was a media master. He’s just a very energetic man who thinks. But it's hard for us to see that, because what we have is Ronald Reagan who has memorised the replies, no matterwhat question you ask. . . But the great thing about America is that it does everything to death and then there’s a surteit, and something new happens. Ideas will come back in. Substance will be more important than form. Thank God. We‘re really ready tor it.’
Being ‘personalities’ destroys Clea and Zeus. Pragertinds the American celebrity and protile obsession extraordinary: ‘this celebrity thing can take you over. . . you can spend all you’re time talking about people you don’t know . . .‘
Prager chomps on her nicotine chewing gum and ranges wide: live television, plastic surgery, the torthcoming Prsidential campaign (‘everybody’s pretty poopy’), and tells tales of kissing princes who turned out to be lrogs, it not toads, warts and all. (Kristina Woolnough)
High On Crime In The Bronx Tom Wolfe (Cape £12.95). ‘Just cos yer paranoid don't mean they aren't out ta get ya.‘
It‘s a worm-ridden apple Sherman McCoy chomps down on that evenin' in the Bronx. Was it Maria. or himselfwho first felt those pangs of fear‘.’ So. you come from Paradise. Park Avenue. and you consider yourselfone of the Masters of the Universe and you lose your way on the freeway one night with your sizzling mistress and time and place distort and you find yourself down in the jungle. Down in the jungle of the Bronx.
Can you imagine the fear'.’ This is alien landscape. This is No Man‘s Land.
Then the ramp leading up out of the place is barricaded with a tyre. and when you get out to move it. here come the two coloured boys at your back! You can feel the blood corpuscles going on Red Alert.
So begins the strip show called The Bonfire Of The Vanities. Tom Wolfe‘s new novel.
It ain 't such a long way
Don 't s‘tammer don 't stutter
Front tlte gold in tire pavement
To the dirt in the gutter.
(John Prine ‘Bruised ()range') Paradise Lost. God damn! ‘N on the way. the burning consciousness.
the terrible awareness ofthe fall.
Wolfe can write movies in your mind. He‘s got a sharp eye for social detail. And. when he has a poet with AlDS describe the whole shebang in terms of Poe‘s Masque ()f The Red Death. you know. he’s not only got the matchbox. he knows how to strike the damn things as well.
Adventures in a Bathyscope Aidan Mathews (Seeker & Warburg £10.95) Aidan Mathews is a conjuror with words. dealing us fourteen stories in which jokers. queens and tragic spades are shuffled in hypnotic succession.
llis ‘heroes’ are castaways. sometimes beached in stagnant marriages — like 5‘) year-old Bernard who wakes daily beside a mountain ofwifely indifference and with an erection to match! And there are Daniel and Harry who take refuge from robotic daily living in the therapeutic form of man‘s finest achievement this century— The Benny Hill Show.
In more surreal adventtlres a German paratrooper lands in at Norfolk garden. having fallen for 42 years; or a dialysis patient retracts a promise to switch off his machine afterattending his ‘wake‘ — the send-off party ofa lifetime.
In all these tales the dogbones of relationships are laid bare and Mathews handles the connective membrane ofthoughts and feeling with astonishing delicacy. llis poet‘s eye is tellineg at work throughout: ‘My nose was bleeding.‘ one character muses. ‘Big drops like
The List 5 — 18 February 1988 49