Monday, May 20, 2013

James - Falling Towards England

Falling Towards England: Unreliable Memoirs Continued, Clive James, Cape, 1985.

Picking up where the first volume left off, Clive James arrives in England to make his fortune. Four the next three years he roustabouts around London (mostly), taking a series of odd jobs and generally making a nuisance of himself. Again, we have the exaggerated comic detail, and the reminder that this memoir is unreliable, so not to take any of it too seriously. Likely the series of jobs came and went for the usual mundane reasons, such as being laid off. But mundane is rarely funny in itself, it has to be made funny within the structure of the joke or in the delivery, or both. Clive James knows more about humor than I, he could explain all this much better. The point is that James gives us the essence of his early London experience, but turns the details into a series of comic adventures, Tom Jones style. James' behavior is as bad as in the first volume. He continuously takes advantage of friends and acquaintances and behaves with utter disregard for others. It is odd that James would portray himself in this manner. But he claims his faults were real and that he gradually overcame them, decades later according to his narration. There is sufficient humor and self-deprecation, and remorse over ill-deeds, that we cannot dislike James and continue to turn pages to read more of his antics. Despite his insistence that he did not have many friends, he is never wanting for company in these stories; There is always someone who hands him a job or a place to live. Characters from the first volume reappear in greater or lesser roles. They join others who gain prominence. Part of the fun is trying to guess who these characters are based upon. James moves from job to job, always screwing up in comic or pathetic fashion. He did have a recommendation from his boss at the Australian newspaper(from volume one)which he attempted to use to gain employment with an English paper. The reply was why should they hire him to do a job that an Englishman could do. The answer is because he has experience, and an excellent recommendation from someone this person has reason to respect and listen to. But James claims he did not have an answer and did not get the job. He tells the reader that at one low point in these early London years,he contemplated suicide, or at least a return to Australia. Of course overall there is quite a bit of the tall tale in this book. Despite James' living in near-starvation and near-homelessness for three years, he never suffered either fate, and made several trips to Italy to visit his girlfriend, and made at least the one trip to Paris. He had a second recommendation, this one from a Sydney University Professor to help him apply to enter Oxford University. He was accepted, and when the required waiting period ended (at the end of the three years covered in the book) James entered Pembroke College in Oxford. This next major step in his life is the conclusion of this memoir, and the segue to volume three.

No comments: