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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lunches and lost sleep on the road to fame
Some commentators seem to tend to the view that Clive James has an over-high opinion of his own qualities. My own view is that these same commentators ought to belt up until they have written an article with anything like the clout of the introduction to From the Land of Shadows, to pick just one from a wide range of alternatives. North Face of Soho is the fourth volume...
Published on 5 Nov 2006 by Glenn Richer

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A change of pace
It's been a long time since the last installment of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs appeared in 1990; the previous one came out five years before then, and the original volume (from which the series takes its title) five years before that. So there's been a change of pace, and there's a change of style as well. Much of the appeal of the first three books came from the...
Published on 7 Sep 2007 by Jeremy Walton


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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lunches and lost sleep on the road to fame, 5 Nov 2006
By 
Glenn Richer (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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Some commentators seem to tend to the view that Clive James has an over-high opinion of his own qualities. My own view is that these same commentators ought to belt up until they have written an article with anything like the clout of the introduction to From the Land of Shadows, to pick just one from a wide range of alternatives. North Face of Soho is the fourth volume in the Unreliable Memoirs series and it has been a long time since the third, May Week was in June, published back in 1990. Since then we have seen a lot less of James on the television and it is unlikely viewers under thirty will appreciate how much of a peak-time feature he was not so long ago.

There is no evidence in this book that James misses those times, and overall he appears to think that he is well out of it. Readers will find that North Face is generally darker in tone than the earlier volumes in the series, which had an embarrassing tendency to leave one spluttering with laughter whilst travelling on public transport, but there are still plenty of eye widening episodes included. Some of these relate to the author's copious consumption of booze and cannabis, both of which he gave up completely during the period covered, and the extent of his addictive tendencies is surprising, given the discipline that seems to have powered his creative output over the years.

A theme of slowly acquiring a greater sense of responsibility runs through this book. It begins shortly after James's marriage, with children on the way, and the future wellbeing of the family depending on his contribution to household income. The earlier sections tell of an endless round of poorly paid freelance pieces and deadlines that James could only meet by working through the night. The stress of these early days was eventually mitigated through regular slots on television and the TV review column for the Observer that started in 1972. An interesting sub-plot to this memoir relates to James's work as a lyricist. Given his standing as a critic and TV presenter, relatively few of James's fans may be aware that during the early 1970s he was expecting fortune, if not necessarily fame, to come from the music industry. The songs that he wrote with his old Cambridge colleague, the guitarist, singer and composer Pete Atkin, have become cult classics and deserve a much wider audience (you can widen it yourself now on Amazon), but at the time did not attract enough attention, despite the efforts of Kenny Everett.

Covering a period when media and literary giants were moving into the ascendancy, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, James Fenton and Julian Barnes and many others pass through the book as part of the crowd at the famous London Literary lunches, but one of the most touching portraits is of Ian Hamilton, who James recalls: "... really did remove the lighted cigarette from his mouth only to replace it with the rim of a glass of Scotch...". Hamilton appears to have played an important part in James's life at this time, providing guidance at critical points along the way.

In his own Introduction James states that he has increasingly taken to wishing he had done things differently. This book does not make it entirely clear why this is the case, although poetry has always been the author's first passion, and perhaps he hoped to either achieve more or gain greater recognition for his work in that area. If this is the problem, then to some extent it belies James's own belief in the importance of the popular media. But perhaps the sense of disappointment is a result of the decline in the quality of television and newspaper offerings, both failing to live up to the promise they once had. If this is the reason then James has every right to feel proud that his contributions remain among the very best that the popular arts had to offer when that promise seemed real.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A change of pace, 7 Sep 2007
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Paperback)
It's been a long time since the last installment of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs appeared in 1990; the previous one came out five years before then, and the original volume (from which the series takes its title) five years before that. So there's been a change of pace, and there's a change of style as well. Much of the appeal of the first three books came from the stories of how a well-respected, intelligent, prolific media figure started out in life; the contrast between his tough public persona and - say - the defecating, masturbating, over-consuming child depicted in the first volume was particularly striking. The air of self-deprecation (if not brutal honesty) hung over the second and third installments, as he sought to make his way to England, and established himself at Cambridge.

Although this installment follows on immediately from the end of the last one (where he was just about to leave Cambridge following his marriage), everything changes here. Being more an account of how he found his way into London's media scene (where he became preeminent), he's left out the self-deprecation, preferring to tell the story straight. Part of this appears to be a sharing of his experiences in an attempt to instruct any reader who has ideas about following in his footsteps. This is doubtless a worthy cause, but it has the effect of limiting the range of appeal for the book - certainly when compared to the original volume, which (as he acknowledges here) has become the most popular of all his books.

So lovers of his wit and humour won't find much to admire here. They also won't find many examples of his brilliantly coruscating style - indeed, parts of the writing appear to be somewhat rushed, as he makes promises to return to subjects in a way that's almost chatty, and certainly not up to his usual standards of construction. The hubris that he's sometimes accused of breaks through here and there as well, as when he attempts to excuse his poor listening skills by noting that "they used to accuse Scott Fitzgerald of the same thing". However, there are still memorable examples of his characteristic knack for finding exactly the right image, as on p150: "If all the accomplished but not especially interesting would-be writers became schoolteachers and taught grammar, the country would be on the road to recovery. The sky has more stars than it knows what to do with, but it can't do without gravity."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Yet, 1 Oct 2007
"Falling Towards England" was always the funniest book I've ever read. In this latest installment of his memoirs Clive James takes the humour of the previous volume and hones it to a sophisticated perfection - the descriptions of his colleagues and various editors and mentors at The Pillar of Hercules had me bellowing with laughter - but tempers it with an older wisdom, a poignant sense of time passing all too quickly and not in the right direction.
Here too are some wonderful apercus about the process of writing, and a passionate sense of how much it matters. The result is a celebration of the fun of bohemia and of the deep seriousness which must underpin it if the work is to get done.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing after the excellent Unreliable Memoirs., 14 Aug 2007
By 
A. I. Mackenzie "alimack" (Glasgow, Scotland.) - See all my reviews
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Clive James has a lot to answer for, I obsessively read and reread the first three volumes of his autobiography. The combination of bad behaviour and good delivery was irresistible.
Unfortunately this volume was much flatter, it deals with James' formative media years as a writer for the Observer and a rising TV presenter.

Becoming a household name is obviously a lot of hard work, and it generally seems that Clive has less affection for these times, unfortunately it shows in the writing. Although there are laugh out loud parts of the book, they are rarer than the first three books, and generally a feeling of exhaustion and self reference seems to have overcome the whole project. When he starts quoting himself in the final chapters, it begins to get quite irritating.

The chapter on interviewing movie stars is very funny and astute but the rest is quite ordinary. He's also quite dismissive of Manchester and far too nice to media types like Janet Street Porter and Pamela Stephenson.

Don't bother unless you're a fan.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drink, drugs and the sex pistols?, 31 Mar 2009
This review is from: North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Paperback)
Where to start with describing Clive James? If you are of a younger age if someone asked you to name great Australians you would think on names like Ledger, Kylie and Crowe. To people who have lived a little bit would think Harris, Humphries, Greer and top of the list would be Clive James.
Although this is not his best volume of his autobiography series, in this book, the fourth installment, he takes us from the late 60's to the late 70's. An era where fashions were not for the faint hearted and Clive seemed to be a dedicated follower!
He recounts how he got his first real job in journalism and then into televison (is that proper work?). The journey takes in his experiences with grass and how he made a fool of himself and his giving up alcohol and making a bigger fool of himself.
Like all honest autobiographies it is full of people that I had never heard of but were pivitol in making Clive the clever and insightful writer he is today. But for the more celebrity conscious reader there are funny anecdotes involving his encounters with such stars as Richard Burton, Burt Lancaster and a very bizare interview with Peter Sellers. He also tells of his being stuck in the same room as the Sex Pistols on the day that they went into TV historical infamey. Surfice to say he was not impressed.
If you are an aspiring writer or journalist this is worth reading as he is open and honest about the mistakes he has made and what lessons he has learnt. As he points out the best lessons are learnt from making mistakes and he seems to have made many on his way to greatness.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Among the soho boozers, 4 Jan 2007
By 
J. Hofmann (London) - See all my reviews
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There is much to admire in Clive James's writing: erudition, compact phrasing and a discursive style that can engage a reader's interest in often obscure topics. Unfortunately, the fourth instalment of memoirs takes all these elements and regurgitates them into accidental self-parody.

The problem that the author has is that the launching of his undeniably successful media career is likely to be of far less interest to his readers than it so obviously is to himself. The first three books derived their humour from the pitfalls of growing up in the suburbs and overcoming the gaucheness and pretensions of early adulthood, topics we can all relate to in some way.

The current book deals at inordinate length with the details of freelance contracts, negotiating a salary increase at the Observer and the rather inane accoutrements of the jobbing journalist - which doubtless induces a shiver of recognition in struggling freelancers but remains superfluous in terms of riveting biography. It is hard to see how we are supposed to interpret these vignettes apart from the fact that they are entirely self-congratulatory.

The same goes for the long passages about having lunch with Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis. Despite the fact that Christopher Hitchens has had an awful lot of lunches with many people of interest, the buyers of this book are unlikely to be among them. The most revealingly comment on the "London Literary Society" lunch club, as Mr James dubs them, is that few, if any of them, have produced anything of note in years and Christopher Hitchens has become the cell block punk for the neo-conservatives in Washington.

There is enough in the book to sustain the read, but be prepared for the type of belaboured puns, metaphors and similies that bear all the hallmarks of a once-good writer in terminal decline. The recent Robert Hughes autobiography, an Australian contemporary and also part of the 1960's Kangeroo valley in London, shows a much better grasp of factual storytelling.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Like Prozac, 29 Dec 2013
This review is from: North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Paperback)
Clive James' autobiographies are funny, insightful, silly and refreshing. I've read all of them but often while on the train, a real hazard as I end up loudly snorting with laughter and usually end up having to put the book away. Perfect antidote to winter blues.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, 12 Nov 2013
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This review is from: North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Paperback)
In very good condition, this book is well produced, the writing a delight.....hope to add to my collection of Clive James' writing when I am able.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and wise, 4 Sep 2013
By 
hiljean (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Paperback)
I have read the three previous volumes of Clive James's autobiography, and "Unreliable Memoirs" remains as one of my very favourite books. The following two volumes didn't quite match up to that for humour and interest, but for me this one came up to expectations. It probably helps if you have some knowledge of the media industry (mine is second-hand through a close relative) so that you can identify with much that is being said.

What I enjoyed and admired about this book was James's usual self-deprecating humour (loved his descriptions of his 1970s outfits and hairstyles) combined with the wisdom that often comes only with hindsight which he is honest enough to admit. It is NOT, as some seem to think, a catalogue of boasts; James often points out that he owed much to good fortune and being lost for words when silence worked to his advantage.

I would happily re-read this book, and look forward to reading the fifth instalment "The Blaze of Obscurity" which is already sitting on my bookshelf.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 4 Aug 2014
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This review is from: North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Paperback)
I started reading this on the way home from London to Cornwall, I laughed so much the journey flew.
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North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV
North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV by Clive James (Paperback - 7 Nov 2008)
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