Hitchcock Has Nothing on Charles Saatchi in His Power to Deeply Disturb
Lezard, Nicholas, New Statesman (1996)
Back from New York and I discover that once again summer has failed to materialise. It had all been so tantalising on the way out: the trees on the A312, which links the A40 and the M4, were alive with birdsong, and that's a phrase I never thought I'd be writing in my lifetime. And I arrived in a chilly New York just an hour away from taking a battering from a rainstorm so vicious it was even given a name.
The return journey was the opposite: from a glorious summer New York, not too hot or muggy and with brilliant sunshine, to a cold, grey London. I looked out at the houses on the North Circular and wondered whether they were the most unloved houses in the world. If looking at them makes you feel like killing yourself, what must living in them be like? (For connoisseurs of depressing housing, I recommend the stretch, about three miles long, centred on Neasden.)
Well, the sun has now returned, in a tentative way, like a guest who is not really sure whether he wants to be at the party or not, and is quite conscious that there is a better one down the road but feels an obligation to drop in just for a bit. We have noticed your reluctance, o Ra, and frankly, we are a little disappointed. At least it was pleasant enough for Charles Saatchi to be able to sit outside and half-choke his wife without suffering a chill or getting rained on.
There. I made it right down to the end of the second paragraph before mentioning that incident. For although I have a hunch others in this magazine will be commenting on it and that mine may well be surplus to requirements, I am afraid I am helpless: I have become obsessed with it. The pictures, once seen, cannot be unseen, and the distance between the face of Nigella we all know from the telly and the frightened, weeping face from the paparazzi shots is immense and terrifying. Not even Hitchcock, in art, managed to unsettle so much.
I find myself unable to think of anything else. I have friends who have suffered violence at the hands of the men they love; in one case it was very nearly fatal and the doctors who examined her expressed relief that she had not been beaten for a second longer than she already had, so close had she come to death. …