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Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing; Reprint edition (3 Jan. 2003)
This book is an outstanding debut in the genre of biography always a tricky art and made more so by the mysterious and bizzare life led by its subject, Julian Maclaren-Ross. This book is a must read for anyone even remotley interested in the literary history of the 40's. Of which Maclaren-Ross was perhaps its most striking exemplar. Tracing his origins and early life in Nice and later to the South Coast, Bognor Regis where his still in print novel "Of love and Hunger " is set, the story gathers pace at the start of war when Maclaren-Ross came to prominence as a new star in the London Litereary firmament with his short stories, many chronicling his life and expereicnes in the British army. Once discharged form there he headed to London his first proper book deal contracted, he took a flat in Maida Vale and with the publishers advance got himself a stylish dandy's new wardrobe. His daily routine then would consist of propping up the saloon Bar of the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place from opening time til 3pm, when pubs shut for 3 hours, back again for the evening stint and later home by last tube or more frequently a taxi to write through the night fuelled on black coffee and benzedrine and later his "green bombs" - much stronger methamphetamine, he procured from a doctor who also drank in the Wheatsheaf. He turned his prodigious talents to writing a whole range of things from novels, short stories radio and film scrpits book reviews and "middles" for the Times Literary Supplement.Using his charm and sartorially elegant appearance to help him live in hotel rooms and bedsits alike. Always in need of cash he often flitted from his hotel room amassing huge bills along the way.Read more ›
I loved this biography of the English writer and dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross (1912-64). Maclaren-Ross is synonymous with the bohemian world of mid-twentieth-century Soho, and whilst this features extensively in this book, the biography offers plenty more besides. If you're interested in the literary history of the 1930 and 1940s, World War 2, and London (and specifically Soho), then I feel confident you'll enjoy this biography.
During his lifetime he appears to have produced a substantial and astonishingly diverse body of writing. He was usually motivated by a chronic lack of cash. Like many of his generation and class he enjoyed an affluent and comfortable middle-class Edwardian upbringing, only to discover the family money was gone by the 1930s. What money he made seemed to be spent almost immediately, frequently in Soho hostelries. The constant need for cash meant when he wasn't holding court in a pub he was writing. All of this made for a turbulent and interesting life. Paul Willetts describes him as a "mediocre caretaker of his own immense talent". That seems to sum up his self-destructive life.
I would add that this biography was a follow up to the five Patrick Hamilton novels and Patrick Hamilton biography that I completed before reading this book. This biography followed on beautifully, although I was disappointed to learn that the two never appear to have met.
After finishing this biography I was inspired to buy his "Memoirs of the Forties"; "Selected Stories"; and "Of Love And Hunger", all or which are splendid, and well worth reading.
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Anyone who has enjoyed Knut Hamsun's 'Hunger' or Henry Miller's 'Tropic' series should read this book. Anyone familiar with Jeffrey Bernard or even the film 'Withnail and I' will be privy to it's classic theme: Starving Artist, fantastic, ultimately unfulfilled promise, a diet of air and amphetamine, 62 hour writing jags, booze as fuel and stylistic prop.. As a biography, the Author's first, it's perhaps a little lacking in depth in places. The latter half especially sometimes seems to read as a list of accounts and figures, with little emotional resonance; On one Page Julian has a £108 advance from a publisher and moves into opulent hotel, able at last to focus on the 'Great novel'. By the next page he is skint again, sleeping rough. A £5 cheque from the TLS arrives, he moves into a bedsit. Money runs out, eviction is threatened. A royalty payment from the BBC arrives just in time..he moves to another hotel..etc etc Characters are also seemingly wheeled on, named, either insulted by and /or charmed by Julian and wheeled off again with little consequence; again, seemingly more so in the latter half of the book which seems at times to be rushing inexorably toward our hero's conclusion.. (As with any biography, as the remaining pages begin to thin, the reader senses Death hovering in the wings). This could be partly down to a lack of material available. Julian was it seems a shadowy figure, especially in the baliff haunted days of his later life. There are also very few photographs of him in existence. It's an odd contradiction that such an 'egotist' was so seemingly camera shy.Read more ›
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