Sunday, September 02, 2007

Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, by Gore Vidal

This is part two of Vidal’s autobiography, and covers Vidal’s life from 1964 to today. It’s a pretty laid back, meandering memoir, with lots of famous people popping up here and there. Most notably, he discusses in detail the death of his long time companion (of some 53 years), Howard Auster. Although Vidal does not give too much away, telling his readers it was a private relationship, not to be explained away to the general public.

When reading Vidal he comes across as a rather tough skinned individual. Despite his sharp sense of humour, he doesn’t come across as a particularly sensitve fellow. You can’t imagine ringing him in the middle of the night for help if you were experiencing some sort of personal crisis. However, in this memoir he gives away a bit of his more sensitive side, describing the dread he felt in confronting Howard Auster’s death.

Indeed, he describes a lot of Auster's death in very intimate details - some details I did not want to read. The most startling image was of Vidal staring into Auster's eyes just after his death. He describes his eyes as still beautiful. It was the strangest thing I've ever read - both strange and beautiful and intimate. It was like Auster was both alive and dead at the same time, sitting in his chair while Vidal stood staring into his face. The book is worth reading for these passages alone. (Indeed, these pages of the book I read ever so slowly and carefully.)

What I most love about Vidal is his razor sharp mind. If there is one writer whose style I would love to be able to emulate, it’s Vidal’s. His vocabulary is wonderful. He never seems to have to grasp for the right word. In one amusing description of Barbara Cartland, he describes her fans discussing controversial points about her novels with ‘talmudic zeal’. Ah, I wish I could think up such lines. Even his throwaway stuff is full of gems.

Vidal is now in his eighties, his best writing years behind him. The haphazard tone of this book shows that it must have been written in a desultory manner, in between other things. Vidal’s at that age where he could care less.

All the gossip and politics and celebrity in this book can’t disguise the fact that this is the closest Vidal could come to writing a farewell love letter to Howard Auster. It’s quite a touching memoir for that alone.

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