Saturday, 9 May 2009

Q is for Quentin Crisp

The Q is Quentin Crisp and his autobiography, "The Naked Civil Servant".
Quentin Crisp recounts the hardship of being a flamboyantly gay man in 1920s London, while carving out a living by writing, life modelling and designing adverts.
There were major two problems with this, the first being that I found it hard to relate to his situation, as I am neither male nor gay. Of course, I can empathise, but not easily for a couple of hundred pages. The other problem was that the structure was very close to George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" - both are poor and in London, basically. Comparing Crisp with Orwell's writing means that Crisp loses, unfortunately.
The parts about his appearance were interesting, but he writes himself as so self-involved that the rest of the characters are sketchy, pale - see through. There's barely a mention of his parents or any other family, and certainly no love interests. Crisp stumbles through fifty years of his life, describing it as a struggle and declaring himself to be largely useless. Based on his fame, this is either modesty or negative capability taken to the extreme.
Crisp has a gift for the one liner that's reminiscent of Wilde, and these made the book bearable. One that stuck out for me came near the end: "an autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing". This seemed fitting for him - he can't even complete his autobiography, by his logic at least.

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