domingo, abril 16, 2017

Empire of Self - a life of Gore Vidal, by Jay Parini

I have been an admirer of Gore Vidal for a long time, since the 90s. The first of his books I read was Julian, out of my interest for historical novels, then the completely different Myra Breckinridge, out of a praise by Italo Calvino. I liked them both very much, but I think it was Empire that really got me hooked, and then Palimpsest and his essays. Here was an intelligent, sensible and witty voice, even if somewhat narcissistic and not artistically great.

I read all his Narratives of Empire, several of his satirical novels and many of his essays, and his memoirs. I enjoy his writing, and find myself agreeing with him more often than not. His constant auto-biographical remarks naturally led me to take an interest in his life, and what a life it was. He's one of the writers whose life I like to know, like Virginia Woolf, Bruce Chatwin, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Simone de Beauvoir. Deeply flawed as he undoubtly was, his was a courageous life - how else would one rate his publishing a book like The City and the Pillar in the 1940s? - because some writers' lives and work are so inextricably linked.

And how can one not love his witty remarks? Just a few samples: In my country, yes, the people can say anything they want, as long as nobody is listening. They do as they are they are told. On the other hand, Hollywood makes them happy. The sort of exuberant badness which so often achieves perfect popularity cannot be faked. I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people simply would do as I advise.

Jay Parini's book looks like a very balanced biography, affectionate and acknowledging its subject's qualities and flaws. I think it's does justice to its subject, and it's also an enjoyable read.

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