Alec Guinness begins his most recent memoir, a sort of sequel to his bestselling My Name Escapes Me
, with what he calls an apology for a "ramshackle book": "It states it is a Journal and yet it doesn't quite aspire to that and it isn't a diary. Not many dates are to be found in it." What is
in it are as charming a collection of memories, readings, observations, and anecdotes as could be imagined from an actor whose genius for self-effacement is legendary. Now in his 85th year, the celebrated Sir Alec has made a major contribution to a minor but much-loved literary form, the notebooks of an English gentleman. (It's no surprise to learn in these pages that Samuel Butler, author of The Way of All Flesh
and his own published Notebooks
, is one of Guinness's favorite authors.) Considering his age and virtual retirement, Guinness's life is an astonishingly active and full one, and for all the reminiscing, much of A Positively Final Appearance
is taken up in describing his present-day doings with his beloved wife Merula (married 61 years), their dogs, and the occasional forays they make to visit friends and family. There are trips farther afield as well, to a spa in Baden-Baden and to films and theater, including a hilarious attempt to see the controversial West End hit Shopping and F***ing
(with Guinness suggesting several substitutes for the supplied asterisks). His omnivorous reading is simply staggering, and a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare is evidenced not only by his memories of favorite performances but also his readings of scenes from the Bard, which reveal an imaginative scholarship infused with a lifetime's theatrical experience.
One of the strangest paradoxes of this superb actor (and equally fluent prose stylist) is that he seems destined to be remembered primarily for his becloaked performance in the original Star Wars trilogy as Obi-Wan Kenobi. There's a priceless story included about Guinness's encounter with a child who claimed to have seen the first film over 100 times, and the request he made of the boy: "Do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?" The result of this request, along with much else in this entirely captivating memoir, will amuse and delight. --John Longenbaugh
From Publishers Weekly
Erudite, droll and modest, this sequel to My Name Escapes Me, written in the form of a diary from the summer of 1996 through 1998, comprises the distinguished actor's celebrations of life's pleasures great (the solace of Catholicism; a loving marriage) and small (a good meal, a devoted pet). The opening description of a cataract operationAso successful that seeing the world "sharply and in full color" prompts the actor to "burst into happy tears"Ais typical of a book that acknowledges how powerful and how evanescent such pleasures can be. The book is shadowed with dark ruminations about the rise of germ warfare, the ethics of abortion and the arms race between Pakistan and India. At the same time, GuinnessAmarried for 60 years to a woman who drolly blames "the aggressiveness of Donald Duck" for all that is deplorable in Western civilizationArefuses to take himself too seriously, and the book can be ferociously quaint. Although his greatest fame came belatedly with his role in the Star Wars trilogy, Guinness is disdainful of the films' cultish appeal, calling them modest entertainments whose acolytes have lost themselves "in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities." He asks one favor of a 12-year-old boy who claims to have seen the film more than 100 times: "Do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?" Guinness describes his 1939 Romeo as "the worst... ever to disgrace our boards." Such puckish self-effacement comes easily to a man who thinks, upon seeing the Hale-Bopp cometAa spectacle "not even seen by Socrates, Christ, or Shakespeare"Athat it makes the hurly-burly of a British election year "no more than a tiny puff of dust." National publicity. (Oct.)
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