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Almost but not quite the right book
on 12 September 2013
This is a diligent but sometimes flat portrayal of a great artist and greater character, with much on how and where he lived but long stretches without enough on why. Its the opposite of a hatchet job - I loved him just as much at the end as I did before reading the book. Part of the problem with the book is that Cooper is such a howling name dropper, with dozens of names she wouldn't/couldn't omit for whatever reasons when working with all that material. PLF was a name dropper too of course but he transcended all of that by his unbelievable curiosity and his personal courage. There is far too much about Buffy and Binky and Bipsy & agreeable weekends of charades in palaces, and far too little about his inner imaginative life. I did wonder if the core relationship with Joan and their decision (was it a decision?) not to have a family was important - were there a pile of regrets that held him back from writing more?
The fact that he was a bit of a rotter is not a problem at all - of course he was. That he could at times be very insensitive to his surroundings is intriguing and I think the author could have dug away at that more. But when its good its a wonderful book - she tells the same stories as PLF but unpicks the way the stories evolved. Whats actually quite thrilling is how much the stories were indeed true and the book closes on that lovely note. I had previously had a suspicion he might be a bit like David Niven who was obviously much loved and wanted to entertain everyone, but was it seems incapable of telling the truth, or a tale the same way twice. PLF's own books tried to pick that point up by having a dialogue between his young and adult selves but I must confess I was a bit worried the written record would prove to be a series of over-embroidered fantasies. Not a bit of it; though some embroidering went on the reality was often far stranger.
His knowledge and the way he acquired it was magnificently haphazard. He was a brave & funny man, a loyal friend, an adornment to Greece and England, and a thrilling unique writer who had led me into so many enchanting areas of literature. He was adored and quite right too.