'I am not famous,' Giles Gordon writes, 'although I have always wanted to be. To achieve what others perceive as fame has long seemed to me the only justification for the mediocrity of my life.' But in pursuit of celebrity he has met people who have achieved it, and they are the subject of the anecdotes, half-connected, half-finished, that hang above the smoking-room armchair in a low fug of reminiscence. Sometimes the narrator, as the author happily admits, seems to be Mr Pooter. At other moments one recognises Zelig, Woody Allen's ubiquitous but invisible man. After a long siege of Sir John Gielgud, Gordon believes he has extracted a recognition of his existence when the great thespian calls out 'Good night, Giles' on the steps of the Garrick. Alas, it is another Giles to whom he speaks, and our Zelig dissolves unknown into the darkness.
One of the authors he represents as an agent is Sue Townsend, and it is perhaps out of deference to her that he allows Adrian Mole a turn at the controls. Gordon reprints his entry from Who's Who, then confides: 'I've just measured it, with a ruler; it's exactly the same length as my male organ, which I've also just measured for confirmation.' It is about 11 inches here, though perhaps the typesize in Who's Who is smaller. Who can say?
As Adrian Mole departs, we seem to hear the ringing tones of Gordon's old quaffing partner Wallace Arnold. Excoriating the use of words such as 'cheers' and 'toilet', he conjures a world in which actors 'essay' Hamlet, parents have 'progeny', plays 'commence' at 8.30, Martin Amis is 'civil enough in his somewhat suburban way', and Stan Barstow is 'one of nature's gentlemen'.
It is probably his admiration of Private Eye, which stops just that side of hero-worship, which persuaded Giles Gordon to let the great David Coleman take a turn at commentary during some of the heavier literary reflections. Of Shakespeare, he bellows: 'His way with words is remarkable.' That definitive Coleman adjective - though Gordon spots something is going wrong: 'It hardly needs me to ascend from the cellarage to confide that.' But too late] He cannot stop: 'His ability to characterise through his verse is second to none.' So it's gold for Shakespeare, and who cares who's third?
With such a range of voices to control, there is inevitably the occasional confusion. As Mr Pooter has been taking us agreeably through some important committee meetings, a gruff voice comes up suddenly from the depths of the Garrick armchair. 'What would life be like without travel?' it demands to know. But before you can murmur 'What indeed?' it has answered itself: 'Much diminished.' Paris is the city and 'other essential cities, to the denizens of the planet Earth, are Venice and Istanbul'. It's hard to place that voice exactly: 'Denizens of the planet Earth.' Have all the functions, lunches, dinners and royal balls left just a trace of the toastmaster? 'My lords, ladies and gentleman, denizens of the planet Earth, pray silence for . . .' One can't be sure.
Somewhere along the line 'it may surprise readers to learn that in the Seventies I was regarded as quite a promising novelist, of the 'experimental' kind, at a time when people were interested in 'the novel'; and, for some, 'the experimental novel' was regarded as 'the way forward'. Hindsight proves them wrong.' The difficulty in trying to write what he calls 'lit-ra-ture' was this: 'Writers haven't the slightest idea whether what they are doing is masterly or not worth the paper on which it is written and a complete waste of their time, their lives, not to mention the lives and time of potential readers.'
Of the author's formative years in Edinburgh there is little to record because 'the second impediment to my writing a proper, or even an improper, autobiography is that I cannot recall much about my childhood'. Such recollections as there are come with a fair bit of 'I took the train, no, I tell a lie, I took a bus. No, hang on . . .'
The first impediment, you remember, was that the author is not famous. Perhaps this book will change that. Its reckless garrulity achieves effects beyond even Pooter or Mole: 'Fantoni's delectable red-haired wife, Tessa Riedy, had been Christopher MacLehose's secretary at the Scotsman when MacLehose dispensed with my services. Tessa Fantoni is now a talented bookbinder and repairer.' Remarkable, as Coleman would say: really quite remarkable.Reuse content