'Nothing wilfully invented. Memory invents unbidden.' The 1950s were not grey. In Jonathan Meades's detailed, petit-point memoir they are luridly polychromatic. They were peopled by embittered grotesques, bogus majors, vicious spinsters, reckless bohos, pompous boors, suicides. Death went dogging everywhere.
Salisbury, where he was brought up, had two industries: God and the Cold War, both of which provided a cast of adults for the child to scrutinise - desiccated God-botherers on the one hand, gung-ho chemical warriors on the other. The title is grossly inaccurate. This book is, rather, a portrait of a disappeared provincial England, a time and place unpeeled with gruesome relish.
©2014 Jonathan Meades (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
"Meades has been compared favourably to Rabelais and flatteringly to Swift. The truth is he outstrips both in the gaudiness of his imagination." (Henry Hitchings, TLS)"Meades [is] in the upper echelon of 20th-century prose stylists. His use of language is relentlessly inventive, violent, fresh, precise. He shares with the great stylists - Dickens, Joyce, Nabokov, Bellow - the ability to make the world appear alien while rendering it a more intense version of itself, and the power to recalibrate the reader's own perception of the environment in which they live." (Matthew Adams, Independent)"If Meades was a racehorse you'd be calling for a stewards' enquiry. There's something in his feed which gives him the lot. He's working at terribly high octane." (Iain Sinclair, Kaleidoscope)
Close your eyes & enjoy the erudition. (*bring a dictionary). Nostalgic for 50s & 60s England? Meades captures so much of that time, articulating your sense of loss for things you can't remember, but instantly recognise. They're described in lovingly unsentimental detail: childhood car crushes, the taste of poster paint, biscuits, holidays in weather-beaten caravans with weather-beaten relatives, parental banter, illicit curiosity about death, Benny Hill & Ken Russell and most of the parks and gardens of Dorset, Wiltshire & Hampshire.
Listening to Meades' monologues are a chore for many, but a joy to some of us, so several hours of autobiographical revisionist rambling is well worth your money or Audible credits. Meades' delivery is deadpan to a fault and you could be forgiven for thinking it's a po-faced indulgence of a book, but listen carefully and the humour will emerge. You could listen 10 times and still not register every reference. Enjoy the density responsibly.
I'm glad I opted for the audio book, rather than the print version. The fact that the author narrates this work allows it to be closer in format to his television documentaries. Abroad in sound, the 12" version. I don't know why that should have surprised me, but it did.
It ticks all the boxes for a Meades program (I'm won't try to list them). Panoramic views with himself talking to the camera from the middle distance spring clearly to mind.
The characters & themes will be familiar to fans of Meades' other work; uncles Hank & Wangle make appearances, as do classic cars, diversions (is this one a diversion?), new Labour, childhood friends.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.