Monday, August 14, 2006

Nicholas Coleridge: Vanity Unfair

A Much Married Man by Nicholas Coleridge
I was tempted to kill myself rather than finish this dreadful novel but I have my duty to my readers and so here's my review (or rather, "spiritual response"). I understand from Private Eye that Mr Coleridge sent out an assistant to buy up copies of his own novel from London bookshops in order to cheat his way into the city sales charts, thereby creating the illusion of a bestseller. The worst case of vanity publishing I have ever heard.

No one can fault Nicholas Coleridge for not remaining true to the old maxim dished out to aspiring writers that you should write about what you know. As a man (and MD of Conde Nast) he has come to make a very considerable living from worshipping the wealthy and their ways, through the glossy magazines he presides over and the novels he composes every Saturday morning - and this thought needs to be borne in mind when procrastinating one's way towards his oeuvre.
A Much Married Man is a Jilly Cooperish romp in a rich man's arcadia. A certain poverty of soul is more than compensated for by a trove of surface detail about people who get featured in Tatler or Vanity Fair (the UK edition) - and if this branch of eugenics fascinates you, it is hard to see how you could be bored.
A novel doesn't have to be profound, of course, to be of value or of a time-filling utility, but even in comedies (or light, frothy reads) one longs for just one respite sentence that may hold out the hope that the author is not entirely in thrall to a world whose worth is only calibrated by money, family or marriage.
It may not be enough simply to set dialogue to what could pass for a long style piece in a magazine. The unwary wealth-worshipper with literary longings may need to dig deeper into his psyche to produce something more than an apologia for snobbery and avarice and glibness. But it's pointless being too hard on a frail social creature as Coleridge whose golden life to date has given him no cause to wonder beyond the tinkle of parties or formula of success.
This novel should be enjoyed as a charming throwback to a time of privilege and inflexible castes - as if Proust, Trollope, Waugh (or even Jilly Cooper for that matter) had never been born.
Enjoy the dream, but mind the traffic as you go.

1 comment:

Alastair said...

A Much married Man was the first novel of Mr Coleridge's I read and I thought it was rather fun. I particularly liked the parts about the titled European Aristocracy.