Magazine article The Spectator

Frankly, I'm Envious

Magazine article The Spectator

Frankly, I'm Envious

Article excerpt

Low Life: One Middle-Aged Man in Search of the Point

by Jeremy Clarke

Short Books, £12.99, pp. 285,

ISBN 9781907595516

Some may question whether a review of a columnist's work in the magazine in which that columnist's work appears can ever be impartial. It can, and not just because this particular magazine is, as far as I recall, honest about this kind of thing. It's because it's in my interests to be hard on Jeremy Clarke.

I write what you may describe as the equivalent column for your anti-matter counterpart, the New Statesman; moreover, I am engaged in the business of bunching my selected columns into a book, rather as he has done here. One does not want to encourage the competition.

Furthermore, I knew Clarke's predecessor, the late Jeffrey Bernard, and although I had the odd misgiving about him as a person (one did not go to him in order to bask in the benign sunniness of his personality;

and he once pinched a girlfriend of mine off me), I had considerable respect for him as both a writer and a personality. A hard act to follow, then, and one that I assumed would be impossible.

So my reactions to Clarke's work, as I progressed through his book, went through the following modulations: from wariness, to grudging acceptance, to grudging admiration; and finally - this would be about page 47, so this progress was pretty swift - to outright, unqualified admiration. It was, in fact, on page 47, that I started wishing that I wasn't alone that evening, so that I could read it out to someone, and make them laugh.

The regular reader of this magazine is presumably familiar with his oeuvre, so this is the column when he goes to an NHS anti-smoking therapist, having been refused Zyban, a drug which reputedly does the trick but carries with it a risk of causing epilepsy. Clarke, admitting that he only smoked when he went to the pub, is asked to describe his previous evening and the effectiveness of the nicotine patches he'd been prescribed. …

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