Angus Wilson: A Biography

Margaret Drabble, Author
Margaret Drabble, Author St. Martin's Press $35 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-14276-6
Paperback - 740 pages - 978-0-312-16774-5
Hardcover - 714 pages - 978-0-436-20038-0
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Drabble's biography (her only previous one was Arnold Bennett) has the dubious virtue of being the longest life of the late novelist (1913-1991) that readers are ever likely to encounter. Almost as many names are dropped in these pages as populate the London telephone directory. Yet the chatty but encyclopedic English gossip may be as entertaining as Drabble's glib ignorance of the U.S. is appalling (flamingoes in North Carolina, typhoons in Iowa?). Few details evoking the texture of Wilson's picaresque social, literary and openly gay life are omitted, from his early years in the British Museum to his globe-trotting as literary lion. Where this works is in the camp account of the once-secret Bletchley Park cryptographic center, in which Wilson spent WWII, and where the local shrink, hooked on his patient's dream-diary, suggested he was a born novelist. The backgrounds to Wilson's writings unfold amusingly, from his satirical masterpiece, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956) to money-spinning prefaces to paperbacks of Dickens. The biographer, an esteemed novelist who turns up in Sir Angus's circle as early as 1969, materializes on some pages as ""Drabble"" and elsewhere as ""I."" Whether or not she makes her case that Wilson is as significant a novelist of his generation as Graham Greene, he emerges as a colorful character. Photos. (May)
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