Books: Waugh and Trump and Amis

This week’s New York Review of Books has as its lead review a book by Michael Lewis called The Fifth Risk. This is is about governmental dysfunction in the present USA administration and is reviewed by Fintan O’Toole, who opens with this:

Writing about her friend the famously unpleasant Evelyn Waugh, Frances Donaldson reflected that

“the weakness in attributing any particular quality to Evelyn is that he could not allow anyone to dictate his attitude or virtues to him. Consequently, if he was accused of some quality usually regarded as contemptible, where other men would be aroused to shame or hypocrisy, he studied it, polished up his performance, and, treating it as both normal and admirable, made it his own…. Consequently, it was never any good looking straight at him to learn the truth about him.”

Donald Trump is not often compared to a great English novelist, and the word “studied” does not apply—he is all instinct. But his instincts lead him in precisely the same direction. He disorients us by wearing his most contemptible qualities as if they were crown jewels, by brandishing as trophies what others would conceal as shameful secrets. He uses his dirty linen as a cloth with which to polish up his performance.

There then follow several examples, none of which reminded me much of any bad behavior ever charged to Evelyn Waugh. Perhaps that’s not the point, however; and the rest of the review is behind a paywall.

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, has interviewed Ben Macintyre who is in the USA promoting his new book The Spy and the Traitor, about Cold War double agent Oleg Gordievski. When asked what books he is currently reading, Macintyre answered:

I always have three or four books on the go. It might be a sign of incipient madness. I’m reading Jonathan Coe’s new book “Middle England,” which is a hysterical, satirical look at Brexit. He also wrote “The Rotters’ Club,” which is good fun. I’m also plowing my way through Christopher Andrew’s magisterial “The Secret World,” a history of intelligence from classical times to now. He pretty much invented intelligence studies in Britain. I’ve been rereading quite a bit of Evelyn Waugh. I think a lot of the writers from his era haven’t survived. For example, I don’t think people read Kingsley Amis anymore. Waugh is the one who stands the test of the time. His novel “Scoop” never fails to make me think that what we journalists do is both noble and idiotic.

It is interesting that Macintyre considers Amis a writer “of Waugh’s era” since he was usually thought of as some one from the next or “post war” generation of “Angry Young Men” that followed those who flowered in Waugh’s “interwar” era of “Bright Young People”. But Macintyre’s discussion suggests that younger readers now look at the 2oth century literature in larger chunks of time.

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