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Sunday, 1 September 2019

Review - V. S. Pritchett: A Cab At The Door and Midnight Oil

V. S. Pritchett
A Cab At The Door and Midnight Oil (3*)

I first picked up Midnight Oil by chance during a formative period around 1974 and was taken by Victor Pritchett’s determination to become a full-time writer. What would it be like to chuck your job to live in a garret in Paris? Would I dare do that? (Spoiler Alert – No).

V. S. Pritchett (1900-1997) was a British writer and literary critic known particularly for his short stories. He worked in a London leather firm until around 1920 when he took a job as a shop assistant in Paris. He later lived as a writer in Ireland, Spain and America, and was literary editor for The New Statesman.

These two volumes of autobiography tell of his nomadic early life around Edwardian London and Yorkshire (the family moved 18 times before he was 12), his work in the leather trade, struggling to write in Paris, his travels in Spain and his experiences in Ireland and America. He paints vivid, perceptive, meticulously observed character portraits of his larger than life relatives and others he knew over these years, although (possibly my fault) I was not all that interested in some of them.

The old-school prose demands a lot of concentration. Revisiting it again was something of a marathon but anyone interested in what it was like to grow up in the early twentieth century, or life abroad in the twenties and thirties, might find it fascinating.

see also: V. S. Pritchett's obituary in the New York Times


Key to star ratings: 5* would read over and over again, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.  

Previous book reviews 


13 comments:

  1. I've always meant to read some of his work, but have never gotten around to it. Now I'll add his 2 volume autobiography to my "to read" list too!

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    1. As implied above, I found the autobiographies rather dry. I suspect his short stories are a lot more entertaining and am looking out for his collection "The Camberwell Beauty" which has good reviews. Again, though, some who have read it describe his style as dated.

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  2. That's when my dad grew up and came of age, in abject poverty. I may give it a go.

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    1. Having struggled through it I wouldn't read it again. There might be better things to read.

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  3. I don't think I have ever read anything by V.S. Pritchett, but some of what you describe here makes this sound interesting enough.

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    1. He's one of the many "popular in the past but completely forgotten now" writers. I read this again now only because I remembered being influenced by it many years ago, but this time I found it hard going.

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  4. Given your remarks I won't be hurrying to read anything by V.S.Pritchett any time soon. Was he on "Strictly Come Dancing"?

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    1. Wasn't that V S Silvester, the man with the baggy trousers?

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    2. Actually Victor M Silvester. His baggy trousers were for the ballroom. He wore them to Come Dancing.

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    3. I could say something rude about the title of that show but I won't. Dancing never had that effect on me - apart from one time in Hornsea Floral Hall.

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    4. Should there be a link to a blog post?

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  5. Pritchett almost lived the entire length of the 20th century. The things he must have seen and done. My concentration isn't what it was. I wonder how I would fare with his prose.

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    1. I guess his writing style grew out of his voracious reading, which in his early life would have been Victorian. I have to be in the right frame of mind to read stuff from that period.

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