Coda, By Simon Gray

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The Independent Culture

Simon Gray's last book, before he died of lung cancer in 2008, is an irresistible, utterly contradictory mix of honesty, cowardice, generosity, intolerance and bravery. It begins with his doctors giving him a year to live. He has no truck with those who refuse to be straight with him, but equally acknowledges that he was warned to stop smoking many times and didn't. Now he has time to assess his career as a playwright, think about how his wife will manage, how to break the news to his grown-up children.

Confessional literature has had a bad press lately, its ubiquity bemoaned and its focus on death considered less enlightening, than voyeuristic. But this last in Gray's series of "Smoking Diaries" is among the best of the confessional genre, and a great postscript to his writing career.

His trips to Crete, always spoilt by British holiday-makers, are the only thing keeping him going. This mixture of light and dark is what marks Gray out as a writer who knows exactly what does and what doesn't matter.