Renewal and Rediscovery
The return of Bacon, Higgins and Bayley
The name John Bayley is never found far from the words ‘former husband of the novelist and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch'. Especially since being portrayed to Oscar-winning success by Jim Broadbent opposite Judi Dench in the film Iris, more people than ever know Bayley better for the passion with which he has written of his late wife and her battle with dementia than for the outstanding pieces of literary criticism he has written for the past 50 years, and which he began to contribute to publications like the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books while an undergraduate.
Perhaps The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature, the best of Bayley's essays from 1962 to 2002, will rectify this balance. Booknotes usually takes a dim view of those who pass judgement on the efforts of others in an art-form which they themselves have never attempted but Bayley remains so humble and so generous with his hard-won knowledge that he can only inspire affection. This gigantic selection, including pieces on Elizabethan poetry, the Russian master novelists and playwrights, the writers of eastern Europe and the most important writers of today, shows the full range and extent of Bayley's learning and is certain to remain valuable to students and general readers for a great many years to come.
Slices of Bacon
In the past few weeks Booknotes made a long-overdue outing to the recently refurbished Hugh Lane Gallery. Like most visitors, the object of Booknotes' expedition was to see the famous, or rather infamous, studio of that virtuoso of viscera, Francis Bacon. Bacon has long remained Booknotes' favourite modern painter and his studio has been on display for at least five years, so it might seem strange to only undertake this pilgrimage now. Perhaps the thought of entering the inner sanctum of a man who plunged repeatedly into darkness to bring back some of the most disturbing and unforgettable images of the last century was, at least for a time, too intimidating a prospect.
The State has done a flawless job preserving Bacon's domain. If, like Booknotes, you should be inspired to try to understand what went through his mind as he created his monstrous portraits of the thugs, oddballs and eccentrics he knew in the boozy underworld of Post-War Soho, several new books should help you. Francis Bacon in the 1950s, by Michael Peppiatt, focuses on the pivotal decade when Bacon's talent began to be recognized while Margaret Cappock's book, Francis Bacon's Studio, examines how Bacon was constantly inspired by the tiny, chaotic room in which he worked.
Higgins and Harold
Twenty years of fruitless rummaging in second-hand bookstores have reached an end with the news that Aidan Higgins famous novel Langrishe, Go Down, Booknotes' paperback selection for July, has been reissued by the New Island Press. First published to universal acclaim way back in 1966, Langrishe, Go Down was Higgins first novel and marked what appeared to be the bright beginning of the career of an important Irish writer. The book, later adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter, tells the story of Imogen, a young girl who tries to defy the practise of arranged marriages by embarking on a tragic love affair.
Despite this promising start, Higgins wrote only one more novel, The Balcony of Europe, before turning to travel writing, and it will be interesting to see how the book on which his reputation rests has weathered. Meanwhile, Mr Pinter shows no sign of slowing things down having recently provided the screenplay for Kenneth Branagh's remake of Sleuth. Based on the brilliantly twisty stage play by Anthony Shaffer, Sleuth charts a battle of wits between an aging crime novelist and his young nemesis. Booknotes will be first in line for a ticket when the film is released next year.