Good Reading : February 2016
Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me Dies: The life of Gore Vidal Jay Parini Novelist, essayist and professional provocateur Gore Vidal often said that he would never wr ite a memoir. And then he did – the marvellous Palimpsest, and then another, Point to Point Navigation. This author ised biography – Vidal encouraged his friend Jay Par ini to write it – sheds disappointingly little new light on him. Vidal was bor n into a well-connected Washington DC family (Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was a stepsister). His early novel The City and the Pillar was among the first to explore gay themes and caused a sensation on its publication in 1948, though Vidal steadfastly refused to self-identify as gay (‘There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts.’). Historical novels such as Julian and Lincoln, incisive essays and scandalous satires such as Myra Breckinridge kept him at the forefront of Amer ican literary life. His celebrated feuds with Nor man Mailer and The New York Times kept him on the talk-show circuit. This book gives a straightforward chronology of Vidal’s life and work – and not much else. The author, however, is intrusive; each chapter begins with an unrelated and irritating glimpse of him and Vidal in conversation, as if to prove to the reader that yes, we really were friends. Howard Austen, Vidal’s partner of more than 50 years, is often quoted but scarcely appears. Frustratingly, there is too little discussion and analysis of Vidal’s prodigious work and his place in 20th-century literature. A man self-anointed as Amer ica’s biographer, who regarded wr iting as his lifelong vocation, deserves a more insightful treatment. ★★ Little, Brown $55.00 Reviewed by Aaron Jelbart GOOD READING FEBRUARY 2016 59 BIOGRAPHY / MEMOIR WOM word of mouth The Charles Family’s War: A gripping story of twin brothers during World War II Alan Fewster Many wartime family stories are only brought to light after the death of those who served. The story of Edwin Charles and his twin brother, Terry, is a case in point. After Edwin died in 1987, his nephew, former journalist Alan Fewster, discovered hundreds of letters that Edwin and Terry had written – to each other and to their mother and sister – on their postings during World War II. Fewster’s account, The Charles Family’s War, reveals the family’s story during World War II. Growing up in northern New South Wales in the 1930s, Edwin and Terry enjoyed sport and socialising with friends, but they were also good students. Edwin joined the RAAF and embarked on postings in South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and England. Terry joined the Australian Military Forces and struggled to obtain an overseas posting, but by the end of the war he had completed overseas postings as a bomber navigator in the United States and England. The story of the brothers is sourced largely from their letters, but there is also detail from the political, military and societal landscape that forms the context of this account. It’s a memorable tribute to two brothers who wanted to excel and make a contribution. ★★★ Big Sky Publishing $29.99 Reviewed by Fotini Dangiris AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR The Charles Family’s War: A gripping story of twin brothers during World War II Alan Fewster M to light after the death of those who served.
December January 2016