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Clive James should be 65 by now, if the arithmetic of the years works in the same way for him as for me. This volume of his memoirs, the second, was issued in 1985, but presumably it calls on diaries kept in his 20's, the period the book covers, so one can't really gauge how it reflects his maturation.
His greatest strength and his main weakness are one and the same thing. He produces some brilliant one-liners, but so many of them, and so similar in style, that they become just a little wearisome over the length of even a shortish book. I became familiar with him first as the BBC film pundit and then as the television critic of The Observer on Sundays. Within the scale of a half-hour programme or a Sunday review he was absolutely unsurpassable for wit and originality. He did various other tv programmes over the years, and I remember in particular a series on a tour he had made in eastern Europe, at the time still the Evil Empire of fond memory. There was a clip of a rock band consisting of various balding 40ish gents in dull suits, on which James commented in his flat Australian accent 'They don't just look like secret policemen, they sing like secret policemen'. Does that have you rolling in the aisles? It did me. It still does, and this book rarely goes two pages in succession without something of the kind. As a writer of English he is a consummate workman on his own terms. The tone is studiously light and informal, but the expression is never careless or cheap. Indeed his other fault as a stylist is a kind of demotic pretentiousness. The relaxed and plain-Joe paragraphs are liberally larded with obscure literary and cultural allusions, and it would serve him right if some readers find this patronising. What do you make of a chapter-heading 'Solvitur acris James', for instance? I happen to recognise the reference to the ode of Horace starting 'Solvitur acris hiems' (Sharp winter melts) but not only will it totally escape many, perhaps most, it doesn't have all that much point anyway in its context.
The period narrated is from his arrival in England in 1962 until just before he went up to Cambridge. As a document of an impoverished, chaotic, Hogarthian gin-lane existence it is simply brilliant. It would be hard to describe the feel of his account as precisely introspective - Rabelaisian might be nearer the mark. In saying that, I begin to suspect that James's manner is beginning to infect me too - the style of Rabelais is nothing like what you might expect from its English dictionary definition or the common usage of the word insofar as it has a common usage. Towards the end I thought I detected a distinctly deeper tone. I wonder what he could really do if he really tried.
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on 31 May 1999
Clive James' Falling Towards England covers his life from leaving Australia in the late 1950's through his university years in London. An absorbing read, it covers James's inability to hold down a job, a relationship, and his ability to hold down an awful lot of alcohol. Written in a style that occasionally grates with its use of quotes from authors you may or may of never heard of, James seems to want the reader to see just how intelligent he is, having been to Cambridge on a postgraduate basis. Nonetheless, a solid read, that will have you chuckling away like I did most of the time.
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Clive James follows up Unreliable Memoirs, his best-selling account of growing up in Australia, with this book which describes his life in 1960s London before going up to Cambridge (his time there is the subject of May Week Was In June, the third volume of his autobiography). So this is about an intermezzo in his life: grown-up enough to try and make a new start in a new city, but not yet having received the benefits of the formation and support that Cambridge was to give him.

One view (which includes, perhaps, his) of this story would end up querying whether he was really grown-up at all, as he tries his hand at one stop-gap job after another, including wine merchant, librarian, sheet-metal worker and publisher's assistant. Each unsuccessful stint is described in his usual self-deprecating style, along with his parallel experience of unsuitable accommodation (including a spell sleeping in a large brown paper bag). His finely-honed style makes a catalogue of disasters look entertaining, and he does the same for his descriptions of his friends Bruce Beresford and Barry Humphries (disguised here as 'Dave Dalziel' and 'Bruce Jennings' respectively), and the trips he took to Italy where his girlfriend - and later wife - Prue Shaw (who's called 'Francoise' here) was researching early Italian literature.

So a lot depends on whether you like his style, and whether you can resist quoting passages like this description of a staple foodstuff of the time [p152]:

"When you cut it up, put the pieces in your mouth and swallowed them, the British hamburger shaped itself to the bottom of your stomach like ballast, while interacting with your gastric juices to form an incipient belch of enormous potential, an airship which had been inflated in a garage. This belch, when silently released, would cause people standing twenty yards away to start examining the soles of their shoes. The vocalized version sounded like a bag of tools thrown into a bog."

If - like me - you do, and you can't, then reading (or re-reading) this book will bring many rewards: nods of recognition, paroxysms of discomfort and howls of laughter.
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on 5 February 2012
In the second part of his memoirs Clive James remembers arriving in a snowy winter England with unsuitable clothing and not much money. Published in the eighties when James was a somewhat more visible figure than he is now, this sixties journal recounts crummy decrepit accomodation, bad clothing, jobs that offer very little, and even worse food. In between this there are parties and women, him discovering his love of Opera, applying for Cambridge, writing poetry and falling out of love with the revolutionary left. an amusing and entertaining read in the man's usual style
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on 21 December 2014
Love him and his style of writing, so funny. I read one of his autobiographies each winter to banish the blues.
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on 23 August 2015
Good An enjoyable read , well written by a comedian I can relate to.
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on 8 June 2016
Love his writing. He has me laughing out loud at times.
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on 25 October 2015
Arrived in perfect condition
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on 9 November 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable book, relating Clive James's early experiences as an Australian immigrant with literary interests in England during the 60's.
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on 11 June 2015
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