The memoirs of William Hickey, entitled for American publication The Prodigal Kame, are as rare, rich and racy a period piece as we've had since they resurrected Boswell's London Journal. Something of Hogarth, of John Gay, of Pom Jones and of Gil Blas vent these rip-roaring pages. And it is not only sumptuous Georgian England which comes into view, but lush Madras, Bengal and Calcutta as well, along with typhoons off the China coast and halcyon fetes in the West Indies. Whether he's smoking a hookah, skirting with smugglers, escaping shipwreck, falsifying accounts, cooling a hangover, brawling in bars, brothels or the Wilkes Riots or ultimately winding up a successful attorney, the Hickey anatomy of well-loved folly and unabashed amours is satirized and festooned with wit. A suave reveller in self-revelation, a lover of bawdy crowds, he brings the 18th century of Burke and Hastings, of Strawberry Hill and Covent Gardens brilliantly to life. And he never stints on the personal either; along with scenes of low-life aristocrats, fishmongers and buccaneers, nabobs and demi-mondaines, there's the jagged relationship with his long-suffering father, the friendship with pretty Bob Pott, the romance with ""wife"" Charlotte and a succession of boudoir bouts with Emily, Anne et al. Frank yet fastitious, marvellously detailed but panoramic, this long neglected, once censored but now unexpurgated autobiography of a man and an age is certainly the freest and most elegant literary feast in many, many, many months. A must.