Saturday, August 18, 2007
Joan Collins, The Spectator and ... Dubravka Ugrešić
The Spectator makes a gift of itself to me and I'm not entirely sure why. An accompanying letter with the free copy thanks me for my generosity - apparently I funded over 400 subscriptions in its Spectator for Schools scheme last year - which is news to me but I'm always happy to take the credit. However, the magazine informs me that there are still 400 schools that wanted a sub but didn't get it - presumably that, too, is down to me. The law of karma is a relentless one, n'est-ce pas?
I open the magazine and fate takes me immediately to Joan Collins' Riviera Notebook - goodness knows what your average school child would make of this. In one entry she finds herself in a St Tropez "dive" where a jeroboam of Cristal may set you back €10,000 - think of the number of Spectator subscriptions that would bankroll. She lunches with "witty" Rupert Everett who suggests she consider whoring herself out to Coronation Street while another time she dons a Muslim-style burka to escape the attention of paparazzi. Alas, "billowing folds of black schmutter became caught between my legs," she records.
Collins has been an improbable Spectator sweet-heart since Boris Johnson edited the rag, and I'm glad successor Matthew d'Ancona has retained her. She is, as Gore Vidal says of her, funny. She also writes very well - wittily and pellucidly. Critics wonder aloud about the actual parentage of her prose - imagining some bearded scholar ventriloquist scripting her journalism - but I think not. Her use of certain words - such as "dive" for a five-star louche venue - is characteristic of her conversation; and in person she easily segues from faintly outrageous detail of her spending and social habits to highly political and eloquent attacks on her latest hate targets, as she does in the Spectator. She's as camp as camp can be. She is the very antithesis of Linda Evans.
Collins' reinvention as a quasi-literary-lite darling of the British right triggers a recollection of someone you probably won't have heard of, the Yugoslavian/Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić. Four years ago she brought out a marvellous book of essays on writers and writing called Thank You for Not Reading. Ugrešić has never quite got over the burgeoning impurity of British literary life - the dominance of celebrity, hype, marketing, etc, over the written word. This thought cystallised when in the mid-'90s she attended a London Book Fair that was opened by ... Joan Collins. The star appeared "dressed like a quotation: in a little pink Chanel suit, with a pink pillbox hat on her head and a coquettish veil over her eyes ... What does all this have to do with literature?" asks Ugrešić.
I should point out that Thank You For Not Reading is very funny, very sharp, in places. It's not the work of a dreary grey-pube lost in academe. Ugrešić's book registers the cultural shock of a serious eastern European aesthetic colliding with the Tesco-soul of our own bright Blighty.
Yet here we are now, with Joan Collins making a coverline on the Spectator, honoured presence in all the salons - literary, hair and beauty. I'm not sure Ugrešić would be impressed. But I may yet fund Spectator subscriptions for those other 400 schools.