Lyrical and darkly funny meditations on death, infirmity and other disasters of aging by one of Britain’s most acclaimed playwrights.
Gray, author of scripts for radio, television and the stage, begins his seemingly stream-of-consciousness diaries on his 65th birthday, the day he learns that his good friend Harold Pinter has cancer. So does his close friend Ian Hamilton, who dies during the course of Gray’s diary keeping; and before the end, Gray learns that he has it, too, though his stomach and liver are “in such a shambles” that he won’t live long enough for his prostate cancer to matter. Indeed, death hovers over the book yet doesn’t permeate it, for Gray has filled it with sharp observations, delicious and terrible childhood memories of parents, grandparents and schooldays, and choice comments about films (Gary Cooper’s portrayal of the tortured, stoic sheriff in High Noon, he writes, owes much to the actor’s painfully inflamed piles during the filming) and the work of other writers (W.H. Auden is especially scorned). Asides, afterthoughts and digressions create the impression that the writing is spontaneous and unedited, the author talking to himself and jotting down his thoughts in a yellow pad. It’s not, however, a casual diary. It’s a collection of well-crafted essays (with intriguing titles—“On Being a Genius,” “Still Not Mummy’s Football Boots,” “A Smoking Urologist”) that touch on friendship, adultery, illness, loss, writing, family and anybody and anything else in life that captures the writer’s attention. Throughout, he is frank and funny about his failings and his weaknesses (“his fecklessness, self-indulgence, extravagance”). Once a four-bottles-of-champagne-a-day drinker who now has only diet sodas, a smoker who’s trying to cut down from his habitual 60 cigarettes a day, he’s overdrawn at his bank and can’t pay his taxes, yet he dines out more often than in, and vacations with his wife in Barbados and Italy.
Artful ramblings about life fully lived and well remembered.