WHERE I FELL TO EARTH: A Life in Four Cities by Peter Conrad

WHERE I FELL TO EARTH: A Life in Four Cities

Email this review


A life divided among London, New York, Oxford, and Lisbon is minutely detailed--in this rather florid meditation by the author of Behind the Mountain (1989), A Song of Love and Death (1987), etc. Though Conrad's overarching image--the changing views from the windows of his various abodes--grows quickly tedious as he observes the details of the brick wall outside his London cottage, waxes eloquent over the Maxwell House billboard across the river from Greenwich Village, and gazes out at the bronze sculpture of Mercury in Oxford, he does succeed in sparking interest when at last he turns to more captivating subjects. These include his journey as a young man from Tasmania, where he grew up, to London, the city that occupied his imagination as a child: his disconcerting encounters with a later adolescent infatuation, New York City; the prissy atmosphere of Oxford, where, he says, bodies are often regarded as useful for separating heads from the ground; and Lisbon, where a colleague's warm, eccentric family welcomes him as one of their own. Armed with a story to tell, Conrad's otherwise self-indulgent prose occasionally takes wing--particularly in his New York tales of a cat-and-mouse game with a mysterious neighbor who begins each day by attempting, in vain, to sing an aria from Puccini's Manon Lescaut; the exhibitionist across the street who dances before his window in cutaway cowboy and policeman outfits; and the time a dazed youth on 42nd Street asked Conrad where Babylon was and Conrad replied, ""You're there already,"" only to learn later that Babylon is a dormitory town on Long Island. Conrad excels in evoking a greenhorn's comic experience abroad. It's when he's gazing idly out all those windows that he runs into trouble.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1990
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster