A POSITIVELY FINAL APPEARANCE by Alec Guinness

A POSITIVELY FINAL APPEARANCE

A Journal 1996-1998
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The retired actor muses with humble precision on the little details of his life; the results are sometimes mundane, often witty, and occasionally transcendent. Readers of Guinness’s previously published diary (My Name Escapes Me, 1997) might expect more of the same, but the new volume is subtly different. The previous book was a traditional diary with clearly marked dates; this one has few dates, instead meandering like a stream-of-consciousness novel, or, as Guinness puts it, “a sort of sluggish river.” Though Guinness begins with an eye operation in August 1996, at age 82, the bulk of the journal records events from March 1997 to late 1998, with frequent digressions into the past. We hear about the books he reads (Trollope, Piers Paul Read); the plays, movies, and television he sees (“Loved a recent TV programme on ravens”). He comments on Tony Blair’s election as prime minister, Princess Diana’s death, President Clinton and “That Woman.” We learn about his travels, his pets, his antipathy for Star Wars, and how difficult it is to poach an egg. Through it all, in a manner reminiscent of his master, Montaigne, he weaves philosophical musings and memories of his long, rich career as an actor, often through segues entertaining in their audacity’such as the one leading from a new mobile telephone to a disquisition on technical jargon to a memory of actress Coral Browne skating past an exhibitionist. Some details are tiresome enough to encourage skipping, but the skipper may miss a gem—like Marlene Dietrich’s annual New Year’s Eve “assignment . . . with a well-set-up gentleman from outer space.” Worse, one might overlook the fascinating way in which details build into themes and themes into a vision—of the nature of acting, the “humiliations of age,” and the layered meanings of the old poster phrase “Positively Final Appearance.” At its worst quotidian, at its best high art, from an actor who has earned the name of writer.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88800-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999