Magazine article The Spectator

Doing What Comes Naturally

Magazine article The Spectator

Doing What Comes Naturally

Article excerpt



by Christopher Logue

Faber, L20, pp. 340

A sort of biography by the poet Logue, b. 1926 into an English-Irish Roman Catholic family in Bournemouth. An only child, he didn't believe in God, despite the Christian Brothers (not because of them; he gives them an easy, almost affectionate ride). The point is that he didn't cease to believe; he never did at all,' or so he claims, which in a household like his is surprising as well as interesting, and perhaps a sort of clue to this deliberately unexamined life. He darts about chronologically, childhood and the 1990s sometimes appearing on the same page, and the good anecdotes are left hanging, tantalising; a pointilliste approach.

An example of the general style: he has decided to flee unemployment in Bournemouth and to go in search of himself in Paris. His gentle father, recently dead, has left him 50 towards his trip. His widowed mother (presented in shadowy fashion) says he must do whatever makes him happy:

'He went to France and left his mother to starve,' Aunt Gladys said. `Well,' said Mother, 'that's your Aunt Gladys. She suffered agonies from constipation.'

End of chapter. The tone of Alan Bennett? Perhaps, but an earlier section begins, `It was at Southsea, aged around eight, I began to lie and steal.' Bennett would not say that, in his own voice. 'I knew that it was wrong to steal. I had what a child would want. I was not led astray. I led others.' He writes of himself as though observing someone else. It is disconcerting and sometimes hilarious:

One Sunday morning an angry father knocked on my parents' door demanding to see me. He declared that I had robbed his young daughter at toy-pistol-point of the icecream she had been eating in the street. What he said was true.

At 16 he was put on probation for stealing nudist magazines.

At 19, during National Service, he stole six blank army paybooks, which was daft, because they are invaluable as identity documents for an enemy. Posted to Palestine, he boasted that he was going to sell them to the Jews, together with rifles, if he could get hold of any. (In fact, he says, he had the paybooks in a parcel addressed to his mother.) He was court-martialed and given two years in the dreadful Crusader fortress at Acre. …

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