Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Smoking, Alcohol, Sex and Sentence-Making; Books

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Smoking, Alcohol, Sex and Sentence-Making; Books

Article excerpt

Byline: HOWARD JACOBSON

THE SMOKING DIARIES Simon Gray (Granta, [pounds sterling]12.99)

AS AN addict of Simon Gray's earlier volumes of splenetic disillusionment - How's That for Telling 'Em, Fat Lady? and Fat Chance, to name two of the more verdantly titled - I thought I knew exactly how I would begin a review of this. "It is a terrible avowal to make," I expected myself to say, "but Simon Gray is one of those writers on whom one wishes every sort of misfortune, so well do woes become him."

But you aren't long into The Smoking Diaries before you realise that Simon Gray is somewhere else this time, that it isn't just funny any more - not that it ever was just funny - that the mishaps are no longer incidental to the career of a playwright sometimes thought to be too articulate for his own good, but now comprise the terrible accidents of birth and death: aren't, in short, merely mishaps at all, but tragedies full-blown.

NOT that the old pleasures aren't here in abundance. Gray remains our supreme poet of life's little vexations - the poetry of WH Auden, the people with whom you must share a hotel beach, not being able to find anywhere to smoke (for which substitute your own vice), the "rapt expressions" on the faces of readers of "trashy books", academics, "the punitively puritanical" tone of the times, the criminal brusqueries of doctors and accountants, the speed at which they roll film credits on television - Little vexations which become major ones the more he chews on them.

And if Gray on one of his catch-me-if-you-can riffs is your poison, there are any number to relish in this memoir: particularly wonderful, I think, those on not driving, being an adolescent genius, the joys of " rancorous pedantry", urologists, the aforesaid Auden, and smoking. So good is he on the suicidal consolations of cigarettes that he made me yearn to smoke again though I haven't had a hankering since I went from a 60-to-a-zero-a-day-man 30 years ago. …

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