You won’t want to read the two latest books to come out about Lady Di, but I would encourage you to read Jenny Diski’s review in the LRB this week of Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles and Sarah Bradford’s Diana. Diski’s observations on Di’s death and the public’s continued appetite for it (and her) are hilarious and acute, and left me in a state of mild bliss for most of yesterday afternoon. But what I enjoyed most were her scathing attacks on Bradford and Brown whose books are, ‘based on books already written (by journalists, her friends, his friends, butlers, nannies, ex-employers, protection officers, a speech trainer, lovers, paparazzi) and the odd interview with people who have already been interviewed for the books already written. They even quote one another.’
Diski has great fun with Brown’s seven pages of acknowledgements which show she knows anyone who’s anyone, and even more with Brown’s book jacket: ‘… doubtless with great relief because photo booths are so often out of order, she thanks, too, ‘the gifted photographer Annie Liebowitz’, who ‘with her usual generosity insisted on taking the portrait the publisher required for my book jacket’.
And look out for Diski’s lovely line on God.
It was a particularly painful bus journey I was on – the bus driver refused to let any of us off the 38 on Graham Road despite the fact traffic had not moved for 10 minutes – so I also had time to read Adewale Maja-Pearce’s review of Wole Soyinka’s third volume of memoirs, You Must Set Forth At Dawn: A Memoir. AMP is not quite so cruel as Diski, but nevertheless exposes with, I thought, great sensitivity, Soyinka’s hypocrisy and giant ego. Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard from a couple who had gone to hear Soyinka speak at the London Literary Festival, how appalled they were by the amount of time he spent talking about his own heroic acts in life and his own attempt, as AMP puts it, ‘to embark on his one-man liberation mission’ in Nigeria. According to AMP, this memoir is packed with ‘breathless accounts of [Soyinka’s] relentless one-upmanship’ which see the literary giant skate over the brave and artistic accomplishments of one of his greatest friends, the late Femi Johnson. This review is a good read and left me feeling ashamed that I know so little about Soyinka’s ‘extra-literary escapades’. It also left me feeling deeply ashamed – still, ten years on – for having once been foolish in my criticisms of AMP himself. As it was, I shot myself in the foot and was found out. An accident that only damaged me, not him. If you’re out there somewhere, AMP, I apologise. I was young and dumb.
P.S. I met Alex Callinicos yesterday. Liked him a lot. My fear of being bellowed at again, for trying to find out the truth about certain socialists movements in the seventies and the response of the British Left, was unfounded. He was only too willing to ponder mistakes and weaknesses. What a relief, but more to the point, what an example he sets. I wish it hadn’t taken me quite so long to pluck up the courage to get hold of him. It was back at SOAS in the early 1990s that fellow student (now academic at SOAS), John Game, advised me to read Callinicos and go seek him out for discussions on Southern Africa. And I read, but never dared try to meet him. And then it was a couple of years ago, when my neighbour, Mike Simons, a member of the SWP, advised I track him down. ‘He’s open, very friendly, very approachable, and very intelligent,’ was more or less what Mike said as he handed me a copy of Tapper Zukie’s MPLA, and how right he was.
P.P.S. Blimey! The Sharp Side (see links below) is either a clairvoyant, or perhaps, should consider that Prince Charles reads and responds to his blog. You jogged him into action, Ellis, face it!