It would be interesting to place Jay McInerney and David Holbrook as neighbours at E.M. Forster's imaginary table. Both novelists are fascinated by decadence - that much they have in common. But their diagnoses and anatomies of the decadent condition are quite different; worlds apart, to use Holbrook's dominant image. For him, the present rot can be traced directly to the 1960s: specifically to Richard Neville's Play Power, with its demonic slogan 'the weapons of revolution are obscenity, blasphemy and drugs.' Holbrook still sees that era - which began with the 1960 Lady Chatterley acquittal and ended with the Gay News prosecution in 1976 - as England's dark age. 'Permissive' and 'alternative' remain the dirtiest words in his lexicon; his black beast is dressed in soiled denim, ornamented with hand-crafted jewellery, has long, unkempt hair, chants 'we shall overcome,' or 'Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?' and trails a 'sickly haze of pot smoke'. The fact that hippies are - like the superannuated Neil in The Young Ones - no longer the force they were does not pacify Holbrook. The poison is still coursing deep in England's veins.
LRB 13 October 1988 | PDF Download