The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


First, a confession of ignorance. In one of his many fine essays in United States, Gore Vidal writes warmly and admiringly of V.S. Pritchett.

Who? V.S. Naipaul? No. Naipaul was born in 1932 in Trinidad and Tobago and is demi-Indian. Awarded the Nobel in 2001. Knighted 1990. Writes about the Third World, particularly India, and got into scraps with Edward Said, apparently for not being Indian enough. Pritchett was English. 1900 - 1997. Also knighted, in 1975. Poor, unstable middle-class background. After spending some time in McJobs got into literature and wrote throughout his long life, travel, novels, short stories, biographies, criticism and autobiographies, all of which, with the probable exception of the novels, were well or highly regarded.

Still at this point ignorant, I came across a collection, The Essential Pritchett, and began to dip with increasing happiness. This amazon review of the American edition gives a very good account of it. Here's Pritchett on Gerald Brenan's Thoughts in a Dry Season:
There is a moment in the old age of a writer when he finds the prospect of one more long haul in prose intimidating and when he claims the right to make utterances.
Which, oddly, and as if to prove him right, was a very good description of the second volume of autobiography from Gore Vidal, Point to Point Navigation. In fact it's less of an autobiography than a series of utterances, anecdotes and reflections, most of which have autobiographical roots.

It's very much an old man's book, and has the quality of conversations with the old - you listen, and you gather the scraps, without being sure of how you got from one part to the next, and you wonder if you missed the link. Probably not. It was clear enough in the speaker's mind, but it would waste time to ask for an explanation, and we've moved on now. The title is completely appropriate.

It is still very readable - Vidal is incapable of writing inelegantly, even when his energy is limited. I will buy it, but not in hardback.


Pritchett describes Brenan, apparently an incredibly learned man, as being "innocent of university", as was Pritchett, as is Vidal. What's the collective noun for autodidacts?


At some point in his memoir, Vidal mentions how one of his early novels, Dark Green, Bright Red, was based on the coup mounted by the United Fruit company against the democratically-elected government of Guatemala. Just a few days ago I was encouraged to take a look at Jungle Capitalists, which is all about United Fruit, how it began, the power it wielded in the original 'banana republics', and how it serves as a template for and warning about today's multinationals. There's a summary written by the author on the FT site, but you'll need to log in to read it.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home