AS OF THIS WRITING: The Essential Essays, 1968–2003

Clive James, Author . Norton $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-393-05180-3

Over the course of almost 50 essays, cultural pundit James only occasionally wears out his welcome, and very infrequently misses his mark. Four essays on Philip Larkin cover much the same ground, a piece on Twain, when it tries to rope in Vietnam and Kissinger, seems dated. Most often, however, James is either insightful (a study of Orwell) or else entertaining (a dismantling of Judith Krantz), and quite often he's both. Essays dealing with poetry and literature feature pieces on Robert Lowell, D.H. Lawrence, and Solzhenitsyn, while a section on culture and criticism comments on the life and works of Lillian Hellman, Evelyn Waugh and Betrand Russell. An additional pleasure are the postscripts where James comments on and provides explanations of (and sometimes excuses for) the ideas contained in these previously published essays. Through these illuminating and entertaining notes, the reader is given a kind of bifocal view, first through the myopic range of the original topic and then the wider view of James's critical hindsight. For instance, commenting on an essay on Auden, James writes, "The word 'immediately' is used twice, which is twice too often...." It would be wrong to say that these afterthoughts are more enjoyable than the essays they comment on, but in many places, James's thoughts on his own thoughts are as penetrating as the thesis that sent his critical imagination wandering in the first place. A broad companion to Even as We Speak: New Essays 1993–2000 (which came out in paper last September), this latest collection acts as a prism through which to view James's entire career. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
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