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Becoming a Londoner: A Diary Hardcover – 26 Sep 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (26 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140883975X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408839751
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 4.6 x 16.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A compelling, absorbing account of a most vivid period in our cultural history, both high-minded and full of high gossip ... a rare treat (Melvyn Bragg)

The cast is impressive: there us Francis Bacon in the Colony Room, W H Auden buying carpet slippers in the Strand, Philip Roth and Claire Bloom ... A wholly new picture of the Spenders' marriage materialises ... The book also offers a window on to a changing world ... The sense of an older, more formal and class-based world giving way to a new order is movingly portrayed ... The book is also powerful as a portrait of mutual love (Lara Feigel, Guardian)

David Plante is the ideal diarist: he has a fascination with the famous, a relish for anecdote and gossip, an ability to capture people in a few words, and the essential self-awareness. His elegiac and often very funny portrait of the years 1966-86 . The treat of the year (Peter Parker, Spectator Books of the Year)

This memoir casts intriguing new light and shadow on the poet Stephen Spender ... The complexities of interconnected liberal literary and artistic life in 1960s and 1970s London are exposed in candid extracts from the extensive, sharply observant, drily witty diary that Plante has kept since 1966 (Iain Finlayson, The Times Biography and Memoir Books of the Year)

An experimental amuse-bouche of a book ... Fascinating ... In Plante's account, Francis Bacon comes alive (Spectator)

It is Plante's study of his private life with his lover Nikos in their London home and their glittering cultural circle which makes his diary an eye opening glimpse of a recent but very different England (Metro)

A diary of 1960s London packed with high-end literary and art world gossip (Town & Country)

David Plante's Becoming a Londoner was a shameless wallow in lost time for me, since, in reading about this world, I see that it is one I too both did and did not inhabit: high-bohemian, mainly male, homosexual London Seventies society. Plante, a French-Canadian, sees it with an outsider's acuity, hankering and disconnection, already nostalgic for his own present. And there is a strong account of one great, lifelong love (Candia McWilliam, Scotsman Books of the Year)

As readers of the notorious Difficult Women (1983) will know, candour is also the hallmark of what Plante writes about others, and those drawn to this book for its high-calibre gossip will not be disappointed . Absorbing, illuminating and hugely entertaining diaries. They stand as a vivid memorial to an entire era from which, as the necrology in a postscript all too vividly shows, most of the leading players are now lost to us (Times Literary Supplement)

Plante's anecdotal, witty diaries, spanning two decades, recall drinking sprees with Francis Bacon, partying with Rosamond Lehmann and standing next to Rudolf Nureyev at the urinals of the Curzon Street cinema (Independent)

Book Description

The first volume of David Plante's extraordinary diaries of a life lived among the artistic elite, both a deeply personal memoir and a hugely significant document of cultural history

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A diary of chronic narcissism, penned by a shameless social-cultural climber - novelist David Plante ,who puts his Canadian past well behind him as he and his lover Nikos Stangos find themselves eased into the upper gay reaches of arty London in the later 1960s. No specific dates are given and there's just an intermittent sense of period, with not that much telling observation of manners and mores or illuminating wit. Plante is touchingly too star struck to be that much more than dazzled.

He's far too bright and intelligent to ape Jennifer's diary yet the book lacks a governing sense of purpose. It meanders aimlessly at huge length, stopping off as often as a London bus to attend cocktail parties, to have drinks or dine with the likes of Francis Bacon, Stephen Spender and Stephen Runciman. Plante also celebrates far too often his serene, loving partnership with publisher Nikos Stangos, for the art of navel-gazing can go too far and quickly.

There is a sort of narrative thread or rather subplot, almost in the style of Les Liasons Dangereuses, in which Plante and Stangos are caught up with the bisexual Spender who conceals from his uneasy, understandably watchful wife, Natasha, the details of his close, sexually sublimated association and evident fascination with the gay couple. Plante evidently worries a bit, but not that much, about what jealousies the knowing and also unknowing Natasha must feel about her husband devoting so much time away from the marital home. Just what sort of complex game were Sir Stephen and his wife playing with each other in terms of Spender playing away? Did Plante and Stangos consider breaking or loosening the link?Perhaps the diarist was too engrossed in the starriness to brood much about such things as they hurried off to the next set of cocktails.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Keeping a diary is a way of life for the novelist David Plante; he might take a whole day or more to work up an entry. During a writing life spanning more than fifty years, he's been keeping a diary many millions of words long. This book represents a fraction of that (it could not have been easy to make the selection, as he intimates in his brief introduction). He is, then, as much a diarist as a novelist. Though it is unfailingly entertaining, though it helps to recreate the literary and artistic landscape of London, Paris and Italy during 1966-86, though I felt privileged to be looking over his shoulder, as it were, while he wrote, I ended the book asking myself: How good is he at it? Is he up there with the great diarists of the twentieth century, eg Virginia Woolf, Frances Partridge, James Lees Milne, Christopher Isherwood? Or are these unfair comparisons?

Perhaps the answer lies in what I want from a diary of this kind. I'm looking for three main elements.

Firstly, a sense of the diarist as a writer constantly wrestling with his or her art, a sense of the art emerging from the daily struggle, and then how the work is received by the world. I want an insight into the genesis of the work and what it means, at a deep level, to the writer. On this count, Plante fails. If he has kept an account of his writing life, it is not included here. I get no sense of him creating and crafting his novels and stories. For a writer, this is rather a surprising gap.

Secondly, I'm looking for literary value: a quality of language, emerging from a finely-tuned sensibility and acute intelligence, which rises above the general level.
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Format: Hardcover
David Plante took the brave decision to include only one date, the starting date in 1966, in this diary and to include no separate biographical notes on the many people who appear in its pages. So, there are some people now lost to fame; but the upside is that the diary is a compelling, vivid and original narrative. The golden thread throughout is that it is a touching love story of Plante's life with his lover and partner, Nikos. This really is the portrait of a marriage, tender, quirky, profoundly intimate. It is also a portrait of London seen by a young American who makes no secret of his fascination with the brilliantly talented (but frequently personally flawed) people with whom he associated: Auden, Isherwood, Francis Bacon, Harold Acton and, above all, Stephen Spender. David and Nikos's relationship with Spender and Spender's wife, Natasha, is another thread that runs through the book: complex, seductive and often slightly sad for Spender comes across as torn between his marriage and his sexuality, trying awkwardly to balance his commitment to his marriage to his love for David and Nikos. The portraits in this book bring to life both people and places. Plante sees London and the British through fresh eyes, affectionate and candid. He is a charming, as well as perceptive, observer and participant. So, the book is both a fine work of literature and of social history: as someone who was, at that time, young and gay and terrified of my own sexuality, I found it fascinating to read that there was a sphere of London society where two men could live openly as partners with apparent complete acceptance.
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