Magazine article The Spectator

Life in the Augean Stables

Magazine article The Spectator

Life in the Augean Stables

Article excerpt

Bitter Experience Has Taught Me:

Adventures in Love, Loss and Penury by Nicholas Lezard Faber, £9.99, pp. 286, ISBN 9780571299164 What, really, is a literary education for?

What's the point of it? How, precisely, does it help when you're another day older and deeper in debt?

These are questions that after a while begin to present themselves with uncomfortable force and persistence to those of us who have believed from our earliest youth that if literature will not save us, it will, surely, at least do us some small, perceptible good. What answer can we make, surveying the ruins?

Nicholas Lezard is useful here, as a test case, a case tested to destruction even. Not only does he have a thoroughly literary turn of mind, he is, as he says, probably the last remaining person in the world who makes 'what could loosely be called a living from reviewing books'.

He has for several years also been writing a column in the back of the New Statesman called 'Down and Out' describing his misadventures in a slummy flat near Baker Street, which is, apart from the contributions of one or two of its arts critics, the main attraction of that otherwise hopelessly confused magazine.

Bitter Experience Has Taught Me is a lightly revised gathering of the first 90 or so of these pieces, and it is a delight, a book so funny it helps you understand what it means to be exhilarated: to have your whole mood lifted, to take your own sorrows more lightly.

If there was a precursor for this column, it is the much missed Jeffrey Bernard, who actually began it in the Statesman, as Lezard dutifully points out:

As it happens, I used to hang out with Bernard, to the point that he had the sauce to pinch a girlfriend off me; she came back after a brief interval, during which she discovered that diabetic alcoholics who drink a bottle of vodka a day can have problems in the sack.

But that's another story for another day.

Lezard himself claims to stick to the 'iron rations' of no more than a bottle of wine a night, although I suspect that that may be an underestimate; or perhaps he means one of those plus-sized bottles named after a card from the Old Testament.

However that may be, or whatever other misdemeanours he committed, five years ago, aged 45, he was summarily sacked by his wife and cast out of the family home to become yet another derelict middle-aged man. Now he lives in 'the Hovel', mostly shared with a friend called Razors, and he is vigorously pursued by the taxman. …

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