X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Books

Deviation and double entendre

17 March 2012

10:00 AM

17 March 2012

10:00 AM

Briefs Encountered Julian Clary

Ebury, pp.364, 12.99

If there’s anything full-time novelists hate more than a celebrity muscling in on their turf, it’s the celebrity doing such a good job that it seems as if anybody could write fiction. Happily for the pros, this isn’t a problem with Briefs Encountered. Not only is the book full of obvious flaws, but it also makes the whole business of novel-writing look unbelievably difficult. There is, it turns out, so much to do — what with plot, characters, dialogue and tone all to be created and, worse still, made coherent. And then there’s all those pesky sentences you have to string together…

In fact, Clary’s set-up is quite promising. Richard Stent, a middle-aged actor, his once-stellar career in gentle decline, moves with his boyfriend to Goldenhurst, a house in Kent that he buys from a dissolute comedian called Julian Clary. More significantly, between 1926 and 1956, Goldenhurst was the home of Noël Coward. (In real life, Clary still lives there.) From there, the novel alternates between Richard’s first-person narrative and a diligently researched account of Coward in his pomp.  

[Alt-Text]


At first, then, it looks as if we might be in for a Hollinghurst-style meditation on gay life across the generations; but that fails to materialise. Instead, what we get is … well, it’s not easy to say. As the title suggests, there are elements of light sex comedy, complete with double entendres. Yet, these are so sporadic that they seem to be there only as a sop to Clary’s fans — or from sheer force of habit. Elsewhere, he throws in a period whodunit, showbiz satire, some heartfelt romance, an old-fashioned ghost story, a fair bit about interior design and a climax straight out of Stephen King. The result feels less like a rich combination of genres, and more like a collection of unfinished sketches for the various directions the novel could have taken.

The characters are all over the place too, especially Richard himself, who’s either cheerfully rude or unbelievably priggish depending on what Clary requires of him. And the same inconsistency even applies to Richard’s past. At one stage, he tells us that when he became famous, ‘Along with the fame … came the sex. I went through a wildly promiscuous stage.’ Fifty pages later, he laments that ‘The drawback of success was that I had to curb my earlier promiscuity.’

As for those pesky sentences, Clary’s default position is a surprisingly old-school writerliness where ‘endeavoured’ is preferred to ‘tried’, and if he’s used ‘decanter’ a few sentences ago, he now has to say ‘the cut-class receptacle’. (Clary, perhaps significantly, is a regular on Just a Minute.) Quite often, though, he simply shifts into auto-pilot — so that lust is ‘unbridled’, grips are ‘vice-like’, cads reveal their caddishness by means of ‘a cruel streak about [the] mouth’ and suspicion and jealousy ‘rear their ugly heads’.     

Oddly enough, the effect of such plucky struggles with language — and with the writing of fiction generally — can sometimes be rather endearing. Even so, one of Clary’s better jokes should surely have been rejected as too dangerous a hostage to fortune. ‘I know some lovely people at Ebury,’ Richard’s agent tells him at one point, ‘who will print any old nonsense and give you a whacking big advance.’     

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close