cover image Party in the Blitz: The English Years

Party in the Blitz: The English Years

Elias Canetti, , trans. from the German by Michael Hoffman, intro. by Jeremy Adler. . New Directions, $22.95 (249pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1636-4

It's easy to see why Bulgarian Nobel Prize winner Canetti's memoir of his years of British exile caused a stir upon its German publication: frank to the point of rudeness, acerbic to the point of crankiness, the author (who died in 1994) had a long memory and several scores to settle. The book's most sustained invective is directed at T.S. Eliot and Iris Murdoch, and whether one agrees with Canetti or not, his eloquently sustained loathing is bracing stuff. For Canetti, Eliot's commanding power over literary life in England signaled the country's decline from its 17th-century heights. That "a libertine of the void, a foothill of Hegel, a desecrator of Dante... thin lipped, cold hearted, prematurely old" could consign Milton and Keats to the margins while controlling the careers of numerous living writers was to Canetti an outrage that the years did nothing to assuage. And his recollections of "the bubbling Oxford stewpot," Iris Murdoch—with whom he had an affair—are, if less than gallant, a useful corrective to the sentimentalities of the Murdoch industry. Canetti also presents numerous other figures, from sinologist Arthur Waley to politician Enoch Powell, from sculptor Henry Moore to historian C.V. Wedgewood, in bold, unsparing strokes. But through all his varied adventures, Canetti's affection for the English people and their institutions remains undiminished. Part memoir, part history, part sociological enquiry, this volume is the rough-edged pendant of a remarkable career. (Sept.)