'An onlooker', Clive James writes in North Face of Soho (2006), the fourth instalment of his memoirs, 'might say that I have Done Something. But I'm still not entirely sure about the "something", and not at all sure about the "I" ... Who is this character?' James's CV takes a while to unpack even if you aren't its owner, and it doesn't help that people's perceptions of him vary according to nationality and, above all, age. An Australian expatriate of Germaine Greer's generation, he first began to claim the world's notice as a student comedy impresario in late 1960s Cambridge before setting up shop as a pen for hire in London. Working chiefly for Karl Miller, Terence Kilmartin and Ian Hamilton, on the Listener, the Observer and the New Review, he quickly made a name for himself as a versatile, witty literary journalist with a non-waffling mode of address that was thought to be distinctively, and refreshingly, Australian. He also turned out comic verse - Peregrine Prykke's Pilgrimage through the London Literary World and 'The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered' - and wrote lyrics for Pete Atkin, a singer-songwriter friend. He has never completely kicked the Grub/Fleet Street habit and is probably best known to American audiences for his essays on literary and other topics in upmarket periodicals.
LRB 11 March 2010 | PDF Download