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No Laughing Matter (1967)

de Angus Wilson

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Bringing great writing back into print - a Faber Finds book.
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Es mostren totes 3
An inventive novel where the development of six children of down at heel parents, whose wealth has disappeared, is traced from 1912 to 1967. The family reveals itself in a series of vignettes through the decades. The inventive delivery of the novel is one of its distinguishing features. Aside from narrative, the children themselves invent a game that parodies the family, especially the snobbery and laziness of the parents; one of them, novelist Margaret, turns the family life into a fictional one of her own making, the Matthews becoming the Carmichaels, as a technique for the advancement of the story.
At times elusive, the story soon returns to the familiar, so the reader is helped by being patient and rewarded by a full and absorbing account of growing up in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Note: My Faber Finds 2008 edition of Wilson's novel is a typographical disgrace that reveals a total absence of editing. This abomination of the printer's craft comes from Amazon.co.uk.Ltd., and must surely stand as the worst a print run as could be imagined. Shame on all concerned.
  ivanfranko | Dec 15, 2021 |
This was Wilson's sixth novel, following Late Call, and it's the one in which he feels safely old enough to play around with a set of characters that clearly owe more than a little to the somewhat raffish Edwardian family he grew up in. The Matthews parents - "Billy Pop" and "The Countess" - grew up in a time when no-one was rash enough to suggest that people of their class would ever stoop to working for a living, but their inherited capital has long since dwindled away, and they are openly despised by their six children for their Micawberish lifestyle, surviving in the wreck of their London home, No.52, on debts and thin air. We follow the Matthews children - Quentin the Muggeridgesque journalist, Gladys the businesswoman, Sukey the headmaster's wife, Margaret the novelist, Rupert the actor and Marcus the art-queen - plus their aunt, their grandmother, and their cook-housekeeper through a series of vignettes from a few years before the Great War through to 1967.

Along the way Wilson takes the opportunity to remind us of some of the less palatable aspects of middle-class Englishness in the 20th century, especially the support for Stalinism and fascism in the thirties and Eden's palaeolithic colonialism of 1956. And there are plenty of satirical barbs aimed at just about every movement in literature, theatre and the visual arts, from Maugham and Noel Coward to the Angry Young Men and sixties folk music.

Wilson keeps us off our guard by shifting from straightforward narrative into Margaret's novelist's view of events (where the Matthews family become the imagined Carmichaels), or presents a scene between Billy Pop and the Countess as though it were part of a drama of the time, complete with stage directions and audience reactions, or he moves into the world of "The Game", where the children satirically act out scenes from their parents' lives in the nursery of No.52.

A very clever, entertaining but also morally sophisticated read: It isn't a hymn to conservative values and respectability, of course, but Wilson does seem to be keen to show us the dangerous consequences of the kind of intellectual detachment and lack of social responsibility that go with a certain flavour of Englishness (of course the English don't have a unique claim to those faults, but Wilson is attacking what he knows best). Those who consider themselves too good, too rich, or too clever to get their hands dirty in life are the same people who closed their eyes to the evils of Hitler and Stalin. ( )
2 vota thorold | May 30, 2019 |
You know you’re in the presence of literary genius when there are large parts of a novel you feel out of your depth in. I felt like I fell into a torrent at one end and could only touch the bottom about once every 50 or so pages. But, somehow, I enjoyed it. Not quite sure why though.

This is the story of a set of six quite unique siblings from childhood right up to their dotage. Using this vehicle, Wilson comments on the influence of the times on society while also very successfully portraying familial influences, both good and bad, which anyone growing up in that generation will be familiar with.

In a way it made me think of a fleshed out version of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves although I’m pretty sure that he’d turn in his grave if he could hear me say that. The writing style varies considerably and is one of the strengths of the novel. This was one of Wilson’s later works and, as such, shows the full range of his abilities with some very abstract imagery, great dialogue and even long stretches in play form.

As long as you hang on tight and trust him, this makes for a curiously unified whole in the same way that a kaleidoscope actually shows you all of what you are looking at. But also like a kaleidoscope, you can feel disoriented along the way.

Through it all, the siblings battle on with their lives and there are great sections where the narrative really takes off. I particularly enjoyed the scene with Quentin behind the iron curtain encountering a young and less than ideal Soviet state.

But just as I found myself enjoying the plot, the characters or the style, Wilson would dive off down another literary alley and I’d find myself having to get my bearings again. It was all fairly exhausting in the end, in the same way as trying to hold your own against a chess master would leave you wanting to lie down in a quiet room. It’s no wonder Wilson cited Proust as one of his strongest influences. Thank goodness he wasn’t inspired by his verbosity! ( )
  arukiyomi | Dec 23, 2015 |
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All through that year the kinemas showed scenes from the Exhibition on Gaumont Graphic or Pathé Pictorial (for the cowboys much largo to express wide open spaces, but for the little geisha girls the piano sounded a touching staccato).
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Through a palimpsest of ink and straying hair Margaret began to see some shape emerge from her ardent, sweating labours of imagination.
It was pleasing, placing irony. And yet, and yet, by ironically placing it so carefully it somehow failed to capture the contradictory whole. [Margaret] flattened the nib of her pen against the blotter until it broke. Now at least she had the respite given her by the task of replacing it.
He found Gladys already busily giving the kittens milk from a fountain pen filler.
[Margaret] took out her notebook and fountain pen.... She put on her pyjamas, took a fresh exercise book, got into bed, unscrewed her fountain pen and wrote.... She gulped the whisky down eagerly in three goes, as quickly as her fountain pen was covering the paper.
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