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Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton Paperback – 2 Sep 2002
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'Amazingly explicit and compulsively readable' -- Guardian
'An important and illuminating book ... Lahr writes beautifully' -- David Mamet, Chicago Tribune
'As good as literary biography gets' -- New York Times Book Review
'Lahr matches insight, biography and judgement in exact proportions' -- Observer
'Sensationally exciting' -- Newsweek
From the Publisher
The classic biography of Joe Orton, originally chosen Book of the Year by Truman Capote and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick White when it first appeared in 1978. Lahr chronicles Orton's working-class childhood and stage struck adolescence, the scandals and disasters of his early professional years, and the brief, glittering success of his blistering comedies, ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE, LOOT, and WHAT THE BUTLER SAW.See all Product description
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I was never much of a fan of Orton's work before this, but as a man he interests me hugely. He has seemed to have gained a misplaced reputation as a cutting edge sixties sexual revolutionary, but Lahr's Orton is a throwback to the days of Coward and leisure class decadence. At one point Lahr relates how Orton was against homosexuality being legalised or accepted into the mainstream; he was excited by the exclusivity and secrecy of it. He was more wannabe aristocrat than liberal revolutionary.
This book is hugely entertaining, thanks in a large part to the richness of Lahr's source material, Orton's diaries, which serve as a useful companion volume to this. Not just as a treatment of one man's life, but as an evocation of the sixties as a period of transition and one man caught in the middle, this book is essential.
In my opinion, Orton's diary (if it were all true) makes for more delightful comedy than any of his plays (with maybe the exception of his masterpiece - the groundbreaking What The Butler Saw). His knack of picking up dialogue from the wackiest of people and places, his barbed comments about theatrical legends of his time, his ruthless pursuit of sex and buggery, the brilliantly defaced library books, his heartless treatment of his long-term partner (and ultimately his murderer) Kenneth Halliwell - not to mention the fabulously entertaining letters from 'Edna Welthorpe' - all conspire to make one gasp in horror, awe and admiration for one man's audacity, verve and vivacity for life - and death.
I say largely, because Lahr devotes a chapter to Orton's life before he met Kenneth Halliwell and his struggles to become a literary figure. However, he proves himself an unreliable and prejudiced chronicler - and his slick, corny and generally offensive 'American' style will tend to turn your stomach (I've always thought it ironic that Orton - who couldn't stand Americans - got landed with a 'yee-ha' biographer). Lahr, brought up in moneyed California sunshine, completely misunderstands and patronises the facts of life in post-war Britain; and he fatally downgrades the role of Halliwell in Orton's development. Stylistically, the book is quite dreadful: Lahr is addicted to meaningless phrases, like 'reality is the ultimate outrage' (come again?).
So, if you've got any sense, you'll pass this book over and head straight for the Diaries. Orton (and Halliwell) await a proper biographer.
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