Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Every time a friend succeeds something inside me dies" - My review of Jay Parini's biography of Gore Vidal

There has never been anyone like Gore Vidal. Genius. Monster. Reprobate. Kind friend. Liberal. Conservative. Libertarian. Socialist. Man of the world. Man of America. Gay. Straight. Reliable. Untrustworthy. Extravagantly extrovert, but shy. And so on. A man full of paradoxes with a personality to match. This brilliant book captures the man better than anyone could expect but there is still a sense of mystery after finishing its 400 pages. Do we know the real Vidal? Was there a real Vidal?

Jay Parini has written a "Life and works" biography which blends the events of Vidal's long life with criticism of his enormous oeuvre. Some of that criticism is negative but it is mostly either benign or admiring. Parini was Vidal’s friend and he is a true one because of, not in spite of, the “warts and all” approach of this book. It is not sensationalist and there is no moralising. And he captures the genius as much as he describes the malignancy.

Vidal was a serendipitous figure so much larger than life that you wonder if he is actually a variant to the species – a one in a million aberration. He is like nobody else and Parini describes this excellently, although he doesn’t really explain it. What made Vidal tick? The urge to write, obsessively on an amazing range of subjects. The urge to perform – on television, the stage, the movies. The urge to shock the establishment, his admirers, his enemies. The urge to get even when slighted but also to heal wounds when he chose to. His life was coloured by the cast of characters with whom he interacted – a veritable cornucopia of name-dropping is unavoidable for Gore and for anyone who tackles his life!  

I recommend the book unhestitaingly to anyone who wants to hear the Vidal story and particularly to anyone who wants to see the people and the events, personal and public, of his years though Vidal’s eyes.  You actually do get a strong feel for Vidal’s perspective, eccentric and bizarre though it usually was. This intellectual giant of a man comes across very well indeed in Parini’s scholarly, well-written and entertaining book.


Post a Comment

<< Home