Thursday, October 29, 2009
Book Review: Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam: Joy of being souffléed alive
Redeeming Features is the book Proust might have written had he not literary talent - his curse I'm afraid - or the book Duncan Fallowell might have penned had he not a brain or Oscar Wilde might have dashed off had he not a sense of humour. This is not to say that Nicky lacks literary talent or brains. Or a sense of humour. It is that he has neither (nor the sense of humour) in sufficient quantity to get in the way. His naked magnetism to society and celebrity figures is pure, romantic, child-like: nothing takes priority over his natal desire to nurture intimacies that are worth it.
A reader of average intelligence, and with an above average interest in names (obscure upper class aristo satellites, especially) will find their own delight unchallenged by artistic soul delving, behavioural over-noticing or mere satire. Many a memoir is utterly ruined by the simple inability of the author to maintain the consistency of a soufflé in matters entirely inconsequential. Nicky avoids this. He rises to the occasion all puffed up like a pillow, his named crowns golden, and with a yielding middle bit: yes, he did have a romance with Tony Armstrong-Jones. Redeeming Features is that scrummy.
In keeping with the frothy nature of the book it would be unseemly then to try to paraphrase his tale: it matters only that he is here and the book is there. To say more would be to ruin the effect, to puncture the soufflé. Light things, such as a joke, cannot bear to be named or explained. To write a book which is just there is a high accomplishment: it is an act of witting or unwitting humility. I can't say better than that.
Like all good books, Redeeming Features hosts a mystery. On p283, Nicky writes of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll "meeting a supposed sex-change relative." Of this encounter he recalls once writing in the defunct magazine Ritz: "With a song in her heart, Marg beheld an adorable face. It may be a her to you and me, but it sure is a him to Her Grace." I can't imagine why the "supposed sex-change" is not named but if he means who I think he means he should know she's highly litigious. And she's no sex-change.