The Reading Room

Even As We Speak

The essays of Clive James 1993-2001


If ever a postal delivery could cheer up a miserable morning then this latest purchase must surely rank as a contender. Clive James best known, alas for his television work in the 1980s has written over twenty books on poetry, fiction and literary criticism as well as a four volume autobiography. But for many of us it is his essays that best serve as a true reflection of his intellect, wit and style. Like the author to whom this book is dedicated, Christopher Hitchens his writing style can be deep and incisive as well as bitingly humorous.

His choice of subject could never be more varied, from Mao to Peter Cook, Orwell to the Olympics or Hitler to Kingsley Amis. There were no rules or favours. Whilst I write in the past tense Clive James still lives, a man battling a long illness his essay writing has sadly come to an end. Like Hitchens who predeceased him we will be left with a body of work which will be hard to better and, like Hitchens a man of unique character. Will journalism see the likes of James and Hitchens again? That would seem improbable but whilst the subject matters in these essays may no longer be current many of the points he makes resonate today and will continue to do so.

This volume contains essays first published in The New Yorker, The Independent and The Spectator amongst others. He gets it right on Orwell, describing Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm as ‘just the bark’ of his work whilst his journalism was the tree. A reminder that without the many other layers of his body of work these two novels could never have been written. Whilst James may not be remembered for any singular piece of work it is those ‘layers’ such as can be found in the pages of this book which made the man and will ensure his long legacy


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