Sunday, May 31, 2015

For Whom The Cloche Tolls - Angus Wilson

This one is a bit of an oddity. I regularly see Angus Wilson's name on the spines of old Penguins and similar, as regularly think I should one day read him to see what he's all about, and then immediately forget all about it. I picked up 'For Whom The Cloche Tolls' on Thursday in a charity shop, attracted by the illustrations as much as anything, and then read it on Friday evening almost by accident - it's a quick read.

This is a House of Stratus reprint - so the cover isn't very appealing, and there's no introduction (which is a shame, a quick look online didn't reveal a lot about it either) but for £2.25 in Age Concern there's no need to be picky about details like that.

The front cover quotes Cecil Beaton declaring that it's 'An evocative and nostalgic scrapbook of the Twenties.' The back tells me it's the story of 'the fun-mad, man-mad Maisie, a red hot grandmother from Texas.' The inside reveals a series of letters, diary extracts, and 'snaps' that circle around the central figure of Maisie - widowed in 1919 at the age of 39, extravagantly wealthy, and determined to enjoy herself.
Not a fan of D H Lawrence so particularly enjoyed this one.

Enjoy herself she does, much to the disgust and disapproval of her sister in law Alice. Maisie's children are bright young things, and her friends and family cover all of the stereotypes you could hope to find. It's a lovely bit of satire softened just enough by nostalgia to avoid being overly cruel. The illustrations are half the book, and like the text just avoid cruelty. 

In the end all I can really say is that it was funny enough to be thoroughly enjoyable and sharp enough to make me think I really do need to learn a bit more about Wilson and read him properly. 


  1. I haven't read much Wilson, some short stories - Hemlock and After, I think? - and 'just avoid cruelty' is about right. They are fun and brilliantly observed, but waspish. I should read some more, I think I have a novel somewhere.

  2. I read some Maugham essays which were funny but didn't avoid cruelty, he really didn't care for Elizabeth Von Arnim, and Beverley Nichols also writing about the twenties had some pointed comments to make about Micheal Arlen. Wilson by far the most amusing of the 3 so far though.