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on 1 January 2010
Roger Lewis makes a great deal of his lowly upbringing - butcher's boy, Wales etc. What he doesn't tell the reader, and which you may not have known, is that his great uncle was the famous novelist, painter and polemicist, Wyndham Lewis. A beautiful, if ferocious, prose style, a keen eye for suitably odious targets and a dark sense of humour - all talents the great Wyndham had, which, sadly, are lacking in his dipstick of a nephew.
Rog doesn't live in Fulham. Ok? Got that? Sure? Good. Rog wants to come on like a rebel, an outsider, but he went to Oxford, he spends half his year in Austria, his book on Peter Sellers was made into a feature film and he is matey with 'loyal comrades-in-arms' Lynn Barber, Sam Leith, Francis Wheen, Gyles Brandreth amongst bag loads of other well-known, well-paid, establishment journos and writers. What exactly is the difference between someone who boasts of being a member of the Garrick and someone who boasts he is the 'only person to refuse an offer of membership of the Garrick?' Both are conceited bores.
'Seasonal Suicide Notes' is a well-presented little book with a nice Christmassy cover and it fits neatly into a Christmas stocking. Respect to the publishers who have done a good marketing job on it. The contents though are mediocre. Roger admires fine writing, but continues to fail to be able to produce it. This book is marginally better written than his biography of Burgess, having, as it does, a subject much closer to the writer's heart. At least, on this occasion, the scattershot spleen and monotonous, whiney tone only dirty the reader's feelings towards Lewis and not to somebody they might actually care about.
If you are looking for a great book about those left behind by life, try Lewis's Austrian compatriot, Thomas Bernhard. His novel 'The Loser' is as fine a book as I have read. Or if you like a narrative brimming with snotty cynicism how about 'Snooty Baronet' by Roger's uncle? Wyndham also has the humour, humanity and classy prose style that eludes his untalented nephew.
This is not to say that 'Seasonal Suicide Notes' is 'hateful' or 'unreadable' as some critics have suggested. It is far too bland for that. It is basically a book that might be enjoyed by those readers of the Spectator that particularly delight in the columns of Taki and Charles Moore, appreciative of the work of comfortably off, socially-established, middle-aged men, who write in a mean-minded way about any trivial subject that happens to have annoyed them that day.