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THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW by Robert Hughes Kirkus Star


A Memoir

by Robert Hughes

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 2006
ISBN: 1-4000-4444-8
Publisher: Knopf

A sometimes poignant, sometimes nasty, often amusing and always erudite memoir by the historian and art critic (Goya, 2003, etc.).

Hughes begins his account with near-death (a 1999 car crash in Australia), ends with the beginnings of his professional life in 1970 (aboard a plane from Rome to New York City, where he will begin his long tenure as art critic for Time magazine). In between are stories about his family (the Hugheses had some prominence Down Under; his father was a heroic pilot in WWI), about his fierce Roman Catholic schooling (it didn’t take), the genesis of his love of art, his decision to leave Australia, his loves and losses and failed marriage, his European travels, his gradual emergence as a writer, his relationships with artists and publishers and the BBC (for whom he freelanced). At times, Hughes is gleefully self-deprecating, no more so than during his protracted tragi-comic account of his marriage to a woman who, throughout their relationship, apparently slept with just about every weirdo in London (and elsewhere) in the ’60s, including Jimi Hendrix, whose contribution to Hughes family harmony was a case of the clap. “I was a cuckold going cuckoo,” he laments. The author also skewers and grills a number of folks and phenomena and fashions—from Tiny Tim to Irwin Shaw (who once stole Hughes’s girlfriend) to Easy Rider to what he views as the entire anti-intellectual, superficial, hyper-religious, ultra-phony, trashy, celebrity-besotted American culture of today. Some highlights: the merry mortars he launches against the Australian press, his stories about Catholic boarding school, his account of Florence’s disastrous 1966 flood, his flops as a writer (he couldn’t finish a book on da Vinci), his swift report about his courtship by Time. (An error: Polonius is addressing Laertes, not Hamlet, when he says “to thine own self be true.”)

A long, unblinking look in time’s mirror, by a writer who has spent his life mastering his subject and his craft.