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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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Pelted with small stones

Alan Bennett’s entertaining diaries are almost spoiled by his tireless complaining, argues DJ Taylor

It’s a mark of Alan Bennett’s centrality to the literaiy scene that he manages to tum up in the consciousness of the averagely bookish person at the rate of two or three times a week. And so, in the five days it took me to read this lavish miscellany I found myself inundated, surrounded and in the end positively menaced by references to him in other books and art-forms. There he was in a battered anthology from the early days of the London Review of Books appraising a volume of reminiscences by his old hero (and star of his first big dramatic hit Forty Years On) John Gielgud. There he was again in the paperback of the second tranche of Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher, swelling the throng of her substantial band of book-world detractors. And there he was fbr a third time in the DVD of Channel 4’s late-1590s attempt at the novelist Anthony Powell’s A Dance to theMusic ofTime, playing the part of Sillery, the conniving Oxford don.

Each of these fleeting appearances tumed out to be characteristic of a personality that Keeping On Keeping On sets in sometimes uncomfortably sharp relief. The Gielgud review finds him appreciative, nostalgic and also hugely funny (of the censoriousness of the bygone Brighton theatre goers, he notes that, “The sleek Sussex matrons sit poised in the stalls like greyhounds in the slips. The first ‘fuck’ and they’re a mile down the sea front, streaking for Hove”). Moores biography, on the other hand, showcases a seriously affronted Bennett, loudly disparaging Thatcher’s reading of a Philip Larkin poem and, as Moore discreetly observes, filing his own misinterpretation of the poem’s import. The Sillery portrait is the most beguiling: fussy, mild-mannered, but altogether failing to disguise deep reservoirs of Powellian tenacity and will-power—qualities that might easily be attributed to Bennett himself.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January issue: Adam Tooze and Francis Fukuyama examine the “American Century.” Tooze says that the 1917 opened the door to the future because the US seized the chance to lead, rather than for the Russian Revolution. Fukuyama says that the US has fallen from its perch, a change embodied by the election of Donald Trump. Anna Blundy puts Samuel Pepys on the couch and uses his diaries to psychoanalyse the Restoration’s chronicler. Also in this issue: Chris Bickerton examines the rise of populist parties across Europe, Peter Tatchell and Malcolm Rifkind debate whether the Uk should stop pretending Trump’s US can be its best friend, Philip Collins reviews a collection of Brexit books and DJ Taylor examines Alan Bennett’s diaries.