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review 2015-11-01 15:22
Portraits from an age of parties
Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age - D.J. Taylor

Throughout much of the 1920s, Londoners had a front-row seat to the antics of a small group of socialites about town. These young men and women staged lavish parties, disrupted activities with scavenger hunts and other stunts, and provided fodder for gossip columnists and cartoonists. This group, dubbed the 'Bright Young People,' was fictionalized in novels, recounted in memoirs, and is now the subject of D. J. Taylor's collective history of their group.

An accomplished author, Taylor provides an entertaining account of the group. He describes its members - which included such people as Stephen Tennant, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Brian Howard, Bryan Guinness, and Diana Mitford - and the antics that often attracted so much attention. Yet his scope is also broadened to include people such as Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh, socially on the fringe of the group and yet important figures whose interactions with them prove highly revealing. Through their works and the sometimes obsessive coverage they received on the society pages he reconstructs the relationships and the events that captivated the public's attention.

 

From all of this emerges a portrait of a phenomenon that was in many ways a unique product of its time. In the aftermath of the demographic devastation of the First World War, the 1920s was a decade that saw the celebration of youth, all of whom grew up in the shadow of a conflict that was the dominant experience of men and women just a few years older than them. The survivors lived in a world where the older generations were discredited and traditional social structures faced increasing economic pressures. In this respect, the Bright Young People represented a garish defiance of the old order and a celebration of life, yet one driven by an undercurrent of sadness and sense of loss.

 

Taylor's account is infused with both sympathy and insight. At points his narrative degenerates into descriptions of one party after another, when the people threaten to blur into a single generic stereotype, but he succeeds in conveying something of the flavor of the era. From the photos included, the reader can see the fun the young men and women smiling and hamming it up as they pose for the camera, but for what lay behind their expressions readers should turn to this book.

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review 2013-09-25 00:00
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway


Possibly 4.5 stars.

I originally read this in the late eighties after seeing the TV mini-series of it starring Jane Seymour. Figured the book had to be better than said mini series (which it was) but I'm afraid I didn't remember much else about it other than I had liked it.

What struck me this time around though, more than anything else was the writing style. Hemingway's stripped back prose is wonderfully evocative and a joy to read. I marveled how something so outwardly simple could be so rich. And after having finished the book it's the writing that's sticking with me most.

In some ways I feel like Hemingway should be a guilty pleasure as his reputation for macho themes, blood sports, antisemitism and misogyny make me feel like I shouldn't like him, but I do. I just can't help myself. I mean, I hate bull fighting. I absolutely loathe and detest it. No two ways about it. But despite this, Hemingway brought those scenes alive for me and I felt like I was part of the crowd. Did I enjoy it? Yes and no, for I felt like I was right there on the spot and curiosity got the better of me, although I cowered a bit and shut one eye while I was reading.

I just wish he wrote more books about stuff I'm interested in. War and blood sports aren't right up there on my reading agenda but for Hemingway, I might have to try. In the meantime, while I work up to another of his testosterone driven novels, I might read his memoir about his days in Paris, A Movable Feast, so I can experience this novel again but in a slightly different form and context.

Another excellent buddy read with my good friend Kim :-).

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review 2013-08-03 00:00
The Beautiful and Damned
The Beautiful and the Damned - F. Scott Fitzgerald

It took me forever to finish The Beautiful and Damned. Not only because it drags on (a lot) and I have low boredom threshold, but because I didn't enjoy spending time with Anthony and Gloria Patch.

 

Reading TBATD – at least in the beginning - felt like going from one party to the next and always ending up with a crowd you don’t like – which turns the whole night out into a bit of a disappointment. However, there is also something quite gripping about the book.

For a start there is some wonderful writing. This is just one that stuck with me - it describes the routine of Gloria’s lunch appointments at around the time when she meets Anthony:

 

“With her fork she would tantalize the heart of an adoring artichoke, while her escort served himself up in the thick, dripping sentences of an enraptured man.”

 

And then there is that FSF injected some his personal experiences into the story. The obvious parallels are that couple live in an apartment in New York, Anthony joining the Army, and the importance of alcohol.

 

Although, FSF may not have been able to predict in 1922 that similar to Anthony, his own life would be unraveled by alcoholism. But what clinched the decision to not give up on the story for me was the very aspect that made it so hard to finish. The protagonists are unlikable (I could not even warm to Gloria’s sass). They have no aspirations, and the description of their wasted lives made reading about them at times seem like a waste of time, too. And then it occurred to me that I didn't dislike the story, only the characters, and then I very much wanted to see them fail.

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review 2013-03-16 00:00
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties - Noël Riley Fitch
Earlier this year I read Sylvia Beach’s memoir of the 1920s and 1930s in Paris, [b:Shakespeare and Company|428456|Shakespeare and Company|Sylvia Beach|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328821013s/428456.jpg|417466], named for the English language bookshop and lending library she founded in 1922. I found it an engaging work overall, although my lack of familiarity with less well-known English and American writers of the period and with French literary figures of the early 20th century made some parts of the work significantly less interesting than others. In her memoir, Sylvia Beach comes across as a thoroughly nice woman and I wanted to know more about her.

After reading Beach’s account of her life, it was very interesting to read what others had to say about her in this very detailed biography. It’s not surprising that the author concentrates on Beach’s connection to James Joyce, as this relationship was central to Joyce’s career. Beach went from being a fan of Joyce’s writing to becoming his friend and then to being the first publisher of [b:Ulysses|338798|Ulysses|James Joyce|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346161221s/338798.jpg|2368224] in book form. She also acted as Joyce’s banker, secretary, publicity agent, manager, real estate agent and nurse. While the improvident and self-centered Joyce was aware of how much he depended on her, he treated her poorly and his selfishness ultimately led to a breach in the relationship. In her memoir Beach merely hints at how exasperated she was by Joyce’s behaviour. The extent to which Joyce took advantage of Beach’s good nature and the growing distress his selfishness caused her is expanded upon in this work, in which Fitch uses sources including parts of her memoir which Beach suppressed.

The work deals not only with the relationship between Beach and Joyce. It goes into Beach’s family background, her relationship with her long-term partner Adrienne Monnier and her interactions with writers including Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitgerald, T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, as well as a host of other English American and French writers of the period. The work is structured chronologically, with each chapter covering a period of one or two years until 1944 and concluding with a chapter covering the rest of Beach’s life. To some extent, this means that the work suffers from the same problem as Beach’s memoir. The casual reader who is not totally familiar with the writers and the publications of the period is likely to find some parts of the work much less interesting than others.

That said, this is a great book to read for anyone interested in expatriate writers in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Fitch’s prose is clear and accessible. She engages in relatively little speculation and each chapter is extensively annotated. The work is a great evocation of Paris in a time of immense literary creativity and innovation. The work confirms my impression of Sylvia Beach as an intelligent, resourceful, persistent warm and generous woman. She is fascinating to read about and would have been wonderful to know.
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review 2013-02-05 00:00
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties - Noël Riley Fitch I can't imagine the amount of research that must have gone into this book, but it kept me enthralled,despite the densely packed information and detail.How I would love to have been a fly on the wall at Shakespeare and Coin the time of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and so many others...The way of life of the period is completely gone..everyone seemed to get by on the financial kindness of friends and patrons,allowing them to get on with the business of creating without the sordid necessity of earning a living.A unique time and place..
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