Friday, March 16, 2007


I'm thoroughly enjoying Colin Wilson's autobiography "Dreaming to Some Purpose." I've never read anything he's written before but he's a very engaging host through England of the 50s and 60s. The 50s London of scarey landladies and clandestine affairs, against a backdrop of little money, and snobbishness against anyone from the provinces is wonderfully evoked. Yet, if in the first few chapters he's living a British "On the Road", sleeping rough on Hampstead Heath, hitchhiking round Paris, the litany of mundane jobs - dishwashing, factory work etc - and the need for a provincial morality and security gives it an entirely different cut. Like other upwardly mobile provincial writers of the 50s, like Burgess and Amis, he's more at home in the British Library than in the literary parties. His candidness is refreshing, and there's a general puzzlement that so many of the people he liked and thought he got on with, so disliked him in return. An incredibly prolific author - there was a bit of a flurry of interest last year on the 50th anniversary of the Outsider - his interests in a certain type of philosophy as well as any sort of ephemara - mean that I'm probably getting the best of him in this book; but so what? It's gripping, gossipy, (meetings with John Braine and Albert Camus are particularly good) self-mythologising, anecdotal, all-over-the-place and good fun. I rarely read of "men of letters" who you'd actually like to meet in the flesh, but you get the feeling that Wilson would be good company.

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