This looks like being the last personal memoir Clive James intends to let us have. After he left Cambridge he became well-known from the media, first as BBC film critic, then as the television critic of The Observer on Sundays, and latterly with several shows of his own. He must be nearer 70 than 60 by now, to the best of my knowledge his marriage has survived, and the combination of anno domini, stability and exposure has probably left him with nothing much more that he feels driven to tell us.
His Cambridge career must have given the university more of a challenge in dealing with him than the other way about. He read voraciously, but he read what interested him rather than what was on the syllabus. He devoted much of his time and energy to theatrical productions, and much of his time if not energy to watching films. To what extent he found the Cambridge experience formative I can't really tell, but it clearly didn't take him over. He mentions a number of personalities - F R Leavis who clearly angered him, Germaine Greer thinly disguised as Romaine Rand, and a few others such as the college dean who come across to me as institutions at least as much as they do as personalities. Of the institutions properly so called he has a bit to say about the Union Society, which was clearly as imbecilic a tabernacle of triviality as its Oxford equivalent that I knew only a little earlier. Other institutions were the regular theatrical events, and here we get a genuine sense of involvement. Cambridge gave him a forum here where he could develop his talent. It might have developed less if he had never gone there, but in any case he carried on with his theatre productions in London at the same time, so I'd guess Cambridge's real gift to him was the student grant that unintentionally left him free to do substantially what he liked.
How reliable or unreliable these memoirs are I have to guess too, but I should think they can be believed a lot more than those of, say, Berlioz. Every newspaper review of this book since it appeared in 1990 must have pointed out that his or anyone's team on University Challenge consisted of four members and not three, and I wonder how this ever got past the proof-readers. Those of his contemporaries that he deigns to mention by name are mainly unknown to me, but some may be pseudonyms like Romaine Rand. As the book continued I started to recognise more names. These by and large are people he can mention without compromising or embarrassing them, so it's fair to suppose that some of the unknown personae are aliases to avoid problems. The story reads convincingly, and of course it reads very well. A child of that time attending a similar place of education can relate easily to his progressive disgust with the bogusness and herd-mentality of the 'intellectual' political left that drove us from any naïve revolutionary ideas back into being staid social democrats. The story of the attempt by one theatrical beauty to seduce him, in which he failed the test, is hilarious, but rather near the bone as well for someone whose occasional specialisation in such cases was just to abandon the scene or even to fail to recognise it as a scene in the first place. As for reading what one wanted to rather than what one was supposed to, scrambling through the syllabus and finishing with a better degree than one deserved - well, that rings a few bells too.
Those who know either or both of the earlier books of memoirs, or who simply know Clive James from The Observer and/or television, will know the style to expect here. It's individual, and in its way it's brilliant as well. It has 'matured' rather by this third volume - the one-liners are not so conspicuous as before, but there are plenty left and the writing has more evenness and homogeneity. He traces his developing interest in artistic and intellectual creation of various kinds, and the wide-eyed ingenu quality of his appreciation is one of the things I like best about him. The last chapter, in which he hears, as we must, the clock ticking more loudly as he continues to look into the door opening ahead of him is really striking and affecting. I sense that Clive James has said most of what he was given to say, but how well he said it all.