A BOTTLE IN THE SMOKE by A.N. Wilson

A BOTTLE IN THE SMOKE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The talented and prolific British novelist and biographer here continues the faccinating story of Julian Ramsay, begun in Incline Our Hearts (1989), which was a less self-critical fictional memoir than this doleful reflection on Ramsay's early years as a man about town. The town is London, of course, circa 1950, and Julian, the orphan, has chronicled his earlier life with Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Roy in a short novel meant to spoof their provincial parsonage-bound life. In order next to create his putative masterpiece, Julian has abandoned a sensible career in accounting and now works part-time at the Black Bottle, a Soho pub owned by a T.S. Eliot look-alike with a wonderfully disorienting foul mouth. A supreme egoist and dilettante, Julian hopes ""to cut a dash"" as an actor, painter, or writer, but finds his novel ignored and his personal life a shambles. Despite his best instincts--and his memories as recorded in Incline Our Hearts--Julian takes up with the literary celebrity Raphael Hunter, author of a scandalous biography of a minor writer, James Petworth Lampitt, whose family remains the primary obsession of Julian's doddering uncle. Hunter, the seducer of Julian's cousin Felicity, among others, proves as duplicitous as ever, setting his designs on Julian's new wife, herself a Lampitt, niece of both Petworth Lampitt and his brother Sargie, Uncle Roy's estranged friend who's desperately trying to prevent a second volume by Hunter. Julian's romanticism blinds him to the ambitions of others, and this memoir--written in his 60s--is a long lament on the vanities of youth. By the end of this painfully revealing narrative, Julian has lost his wife, betrayed his friends, and inadvertently contributed to Hunter's grand deception of the Lampitts. But his tale of woe is measured by Wilson's keen comic sense, which includes an endearing array of secondary characters--most of whom spill their guts and offer their drunken wisdom at the Bottle. Wilson's masterly fiction relies on a ready wit, carefully drawn-out dramatic ironies, and a gently persuasive moral sense--all of which make him the Freest 19th-century novelist of manners writing in England today.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking