NOT ENTITLED by Frank Kermode


A Memoir
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While brilliant enough on what it reveals, this tripartite memoir by a great man of letters nevertheless reserves much of his life from illumination. Kermode grew up between the world wars in Douglas, the chief port on the Isle of Man. Describing his Manx childhood, he expertly conveys the mixture of magic, mystery, and terror proper to literary recollections of one's youth. Memories of faking a report card, of enduring sadistic bullies, even of solemnly inquiring of God whether oranges taste the same to everyone might seem essentially commonplace. Yet Kermode's trenchant style transfigures such experiences, while his vivid depiction of straitlaced yet vibrant Manx culture as it slowly emerged from the Victorian era enhances his memoir's drama. Strong passages frame the enigma of his mother's vague rural origins and the niceties of class distinctions at the dockside warehouse where his father toiled. The next segment of the memoir treats Kermode's service in the British navy during WW II. Here he offers sterling anecdotes that convey the pathos, horror, and absurdities of the times. That the final third of the memoir, covering his 50-odd-year career as a scholar and literary journalist, should include only a few words about his two marriages disappoints. Kermode acknowledges this ellipsis, professing himself a failure as a family man. Such self-deprecation and reserve also characterize his account of his professional life, which Kermode narrates as a series of failures, most prominent among them his tenure at the CIA-supported literary magazine Encounter and a professorship at Cambridge University, both of which ended with him resigning in protest. More might have been said about his successful books and about his experiences teaching in the US. But what Kermode does share remains of great interest: However truncated, the story of his later years will intrigue literary intellectuals, while his lambent memoirs of youth should attract a broad audience.
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-18103-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1995


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