Sunday, September 18, 2011

L'esprit du cul-de-sac

(Sorry if the title is illiterate, I don't speak French.) This predicament described by Kingsley Amis (in The Old Devils) is nearly the exact opposite of the usual staircase wit phenomenon:
I got badly caught in Kilburn once telling a Bulgarian short-story writer, actually he was trying to cadge a lift, anyway telling him to fuck off for two or three minutes while the chap driving the open car I was sitting in turned around in the cul-de-sac I hadn't noticed we were at the end of. Amazing how quickly the bloom fades on fuck off, you know. Say it a couple of times running and you've got out of it nearly all of what you're going to get.

This sort of sociological/linguistic interest -- stray whiffs of the King's English and On Drink, of "the artist minding his proper business" while revealing personality through irrelevant detail -- is abundant even in Kingsley's more potboilerish novels (which OD isn't); it's why I tend to prefer even second-rate Kingsley to virtually all of Martin, who is less self-forgetful and also, on the evidence of his writing, less intelligent.

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