Thursday, November 04, 2010




PALIMPSEST: A manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the early writing incompletely erased.

The unusual cover mirrors the title. The book itself has the 1964 photo of Vidal on front and back. This is wrapped with a thin transparent plastic cover on which all the text has been printed. Maybe only used on the Abacus UK paperback edition [1996]

Always been rather fascinated by Gore Vidal. First encountered when I read his strange book ‘Messiah’ back in the 1970s. He was often seen on tv chat shows and debates where it was impressive the way he cut people off at the knees.

This book records the first 39 years of his life, recalled from 29 years later. He jokingly suggests that the most ‘persuasively apt’ title for a memoir should be Tissue of Lies.

‘A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. I’ve taken the memoir route on the ground that even an idling memory is apt to get right what matters most. ‘

Vidal wrote novels of many kinds – including a landmark series documenting, in a fictional form, the the birth and growth of the American Republic, alongside plays and screenplays for the theatre, tv and film. He was intensely involved in politics and ran for office twice (without success). His patrician background gave him an entre into the highest levels of power within America – he was related to Jackie Kennedy – and he travelled through the worlds of entertainment meeting Jack Kerouac, Marlon and a thousand others.

His posse, if you like, were Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer – they fought and bickered with each other and Gore captures it all brilliantly.

Gore famously wrote the first major US novel with a homosexual theme (‘The City and the Pillar’)and throughout this book he is frank and open about his own proclivities and activities – and of course those of others.

The book is a grandstand piece of writing: incisive, full of electrifying phrases and needlepoint descriptions, telling phrases and marvellous anecdotes, masterfully told. There is high drama and low jinks, catty prods and belly laughs.

Vidal is a naked singularity who remains constant to his principles and continues to this day to  fulminate against the widespread corruption of America’s political traditions and body politic, and the pomposities of power.

The second volume stands waiting to be read.

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