November 2006

Arts & Letters

‘North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV’ by Clive James

By Chris Middendorp

Near the conclusion of the third volume of his memoirs, May Week Was in June, Clive James argued memorably that constructing a decent sentence in English is "at the foundation of our democracy". Given this, James's linguistic acuity as a poet, essayist, novelist, songwriter, TV presenter and online oracle makes him a one-man bulwark against tyranny.

In his latest volume, James continues to assemble sentences the way Mozart assembled melodies. The style feels effortless, concise, joyful. The book is stuffed full of uproarious anecdotes, some of them - James's encounters with big names such as Peter Sellers and Burt Lancaster - so exquisitely structured that you'll want to read them aloud to friends.

But James's humour is rarely intended just for laughs; he employs mirth to make his psychological or cultural insights more engaging. While the foibles of the famous provide undeniable comic opportunities, James's vignettes invariably steer you to one of his central themes: how fame can lead to psychological corruption, fanaticism and loneliness.

James is courageous enough to turn his analytical gifts on himself, recounting how his attention-seeking tendencies were tempered by the recognition that one can learn more from mistakes and blunders than from applause. At their core, all four memoirs chronicle how Clive James narrowly avoided becoming an overweening prat. The man ultimately revealed in North Face of Soho is as ordinary as he is extraordinary. What saves James from fatal self-love is his more profound romance with people and ideas, with culture in all its guises.

There's an elegiac tone to this instalment. That's probably because as the ticking of the clock grows louder, James seems increasingly conscious that he is one of the few pundits left from a halcyon era in which big ideas could be explored in the mainstream media.

Cover: November 2006

November 2006

From the front page

Hard-pressed

The government appears to be dragging its heels on media law reform

Photograph of Harold Bloom

Canon salute

Remembering Harold Bloom (July 11, 1930 – October 14, 2019)

The NBN-ding story

New developments in the interminable debate over broadband in Australia

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Lionel Rose & Elvis Presley

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Park life

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Walk the line

Resistible

Ann Turner’s ‘Irresistible’


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A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre

‘Penny Wong: Passion and Principle’

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Margaret Simons’ biography of one of the country’s most admired politicians

Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius: No going gently

‘Anthem’ marks the return of the Australian playwright’s working-class theatre

East Melbourne liturgy


More in Noted

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

‘Act og Grace’ cover

‘Act of Grace’ by Anna Krien

The journalist’s propulsive debut novel tackles the aftermath of the Iraq War

‘Here Until August’

‘Here Until August’ by Josephine Rowe

The Australian author’s second short-story collection focuses on the precipice of change rather than its culmination

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‘The Godmother’ by Hannelore Cayre

A sardonic French bestseller about a godmother, in the organised crime sense of the word


Read on

Photograph of Harold Bloom

Canon salute

Remembering Harold Bloom (July 11, 1930 – October 14, 2019)

Image from ‘Judy’

Clang, clang, clang: ‘Judy’

The Judy Garland biopic confuses humiliation for homage

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing


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