Wednesday 20 September 2017

Clive James: Confessions of a 'terrible husband'

John Boland

Clive James has always been less known as a poet than a laconic television personality and an outstanding critic and memoirist, but a sequence of extraordinary confessional poems may change all that.

The poems, published in the Times Literary Supplement and the New Yorker, show James coming to terms both with a terminal illness (from emphysema and leukaemia) and with the fallout from an eight-year affair that resulted in him having to move out of the family home in Cambridge.

The affair came to light when former model Leanne Edelsten spoke of it during a television interview, describing the Sydney-born James as a "wolf" who'd "leave men half his age for dead". James subsequently described himself as a "terrible husband" to his wife of 45 years.

The new poems address both the hurt he has caused to his spouse and two daughters, and his own looming end. In 'Holding Court', published in the Times Literary Supplement, he writes of his heedless life "and what it cost", while in 'Leçons de Ténèbres', printed in last week's New Yorker, he confesses: "I should have been more kind. It is my fate/To find this out, but find it out too late."

Elsewhere in this stark and self-lacerating poem, he writes: "I should have played it straight in every case,/Not just when forced to. Far too casually/I broke faith when it suited me, and here/I am alone, and now the end is near." And the poem ends with James bleakly musing "how the years have brought/A fitting end, if not the one I sought".

*****

Martin Amis, the former enfant terrible who was once dubbed the "Mick Jagger of literature", is now a 63-year-old grandfather who doesn't bother keeping up with literary trends. Asked in the Financial Times which recent novelists he admired, he declared: "I don't read the younger ones. I only read the dead. You've got to stand the test of time, which is the only test there is. Longevity is all."

Irish Independent

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