Books: Falling Towards England |
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Falling Towards England


1Soft Landing
2Beyond the Valley of the Kangaroos
3Soul for Sale
4Into the Hinterland
5Cracking the Secret Code
6Statistical Catastrophe
7The Birmingham Decision
8The Man in the Brown Paper Bag
9Solvitur acris James
10Fairy Mild Green Liquid Godmother
11The Warping of the Ninth
12Fiorenza, Fiorenza
13Like a Burnished Throne
14Back to Square One
15The Green Gladiolus
16Autumn of the Expatriates
17The Deep Tan Fades
18Prelude to the Aftermath

At the end of Unreliable Memoirs, the first volume of his autobiography, our hero set sail from Sydney Harbour, bound for London, fame and fortune. Finding the first of these proved relatively simple; the second two less so. Undaunted, Clive moved into a bed and breakfast in Swiss Cottage where he practised the Twist, anticipated poetical masterpieces and worried about his wardrobe ...

Falling Towards England is the second part in Clive James' life story, which he continues in May Week Was in June, North Face of Soho and The Blaze of Obscurity.

First published 1985 by Jonathan Cape.

To Chester and John Cummings

“I had already noticed with various people that the affectation of praiseworthy sentiments is not the only way of covering up reprehensible ones, but that a more up-to-date method is to put these latter on exhibition, so that one has the air of at least being forthright.”

— Proust, Le Temps retrouvé

“All censure of a man’s self is oblique praise. It is in order to show how much he can spare.”

— Johnson



When James arrived in England in the early Sixties, he had no money, nowhere to live and not very much to wear, apart from a white nylon drip-dry shirt, some Hawaian leisure-wear and a pair of Hong Kong rubber sandals. Mostly, though, he had Nowhere to Live, and if he hadn’t already — at Southampton — learned to hate England for its weather, he would in any case have been swiftly crushed into homesickness by its flinty landladies, its rat-trap furnished rooms. Not that he always had a furnished room: in those days, Clive was a familiar sight in certain quarters of Earl’s Court and Tufnell Park — a bundle of bread, booze and borrowed blankets that you tripped over when you went to make coffee in the morning. At one point, he is to be found crouched in a coal-barge; at another, he sets up house in a brown paper bag. And when he does find a more or less regular ‘hired box’ in which to stretch his frozen limbs, it turns out that the room won’t stretch that far.

To go with the weather, and the housing, we also managed to clobber the vivacious immigrant with our class-system, our unyielding girls, our not-so-fast fast food, and so on. No one would give James a job, not even the jobs he’d vowed never to accept. The magazines that accepted his poems somehow managed to find reasons for not printing them. His teeth were beginning to crack up. Clive was never less ebullient; the Flash of Lightning reduced to a thin drizzle. And when things start getting better, he somehow contrives to make them worse: some of the funniest stories are to do with the jobs he did get and was fired from, or simply never went back to after having engineered some king-sized cock-up. Throbbing beneath all of this — as readers of Unreliable Memoirs: Part One can happily envisage — we hear the steady beat of Aussie lust. Clive is a poet now, so we must bear with him when he describes bumping into Millicent at the coat-rack: her ‘breasts struck me physically. It felt like being run through twice with an angel’s tongue.’ Similarly, when he cops his first good stare at Pandora’s lovely legs: ‘whereas Millicent’s legs had merely been poetic, Pandora’s were rhapsodic. They came tapering down out of the hem of that glorified Black Watch kilt like a pair of angels diving with their wings folded, did a few fancy reverse curves of small radius so as to recreate the concept of the human ankle in terms of heavenly celebration, and then ...’

There is quite a lot of this angelspeak throughout the book but since — in real life — young Clive is getting so little of what he craves, most readers will be glad to let him have his fling. In fact, by the end of the book, most readers will forgive him most things — even the over-solemn way he apologises for once having been left-wing. Not so physically rich, nor so abundantly confident of its effects, as Unreliable Memoirs: Part One — after all, nowhere but Australia could quite measure up to James’s hunger for hyperbole — this sequel is nonetheless a comic triumph, full of terrific jokes and brilliantly sustained set-pieces. Clive may not have managed to sweet-talk Millicent and Pandora into sharing his paper bag, but that was long ago. He ought to try them again, because his pitch — it seems to me — is getting close to sounding perfect.

— Ian Hamilton, London Review Of Books, 19 September 1985