From Publishers Weekly
Cultural critic Hughes (The Fatal Shore
) slices into his own life with his ever-ready scalpel of penetrating analysis, opening his saga in 1999 with his near-fatal car accident at age 60 in his native Australia. Glimpsing death, he perceives its mouth as "the bocca d'inferno of old Christian art," a sampling of the rich, wide-ranging corpus of knowledge he brings to bear upon every aspect of his life. His improbable recovery touches off both earnest and acerbic reflections on his upbringing, his native country and the manifold influences that power his works and wanderings through Europe and America. Recognizing his life as an act of rebellion against his sanctimonious war-hero father, he re-enacts his virulent rejection of military aggression and his punitive boarding at Catholic school, where the priests vilify him for reading James Joyce in secret. His immersion in the artistic ferment of the '60s echoes the worldwide convulsions—both cultural and political—of that decade, pulling him into the avant-garde circles that girded his critical career. Hughes's vivid ruminations and sharp-eyed insights combine in bold, definitive strokes to yield a rich portrait of the art expert. 75,000 first printing
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Hughes, the former art critic for Time, deftly intertwines personal and cultural history in this fiercely erudite memoir. As the youngest son in a prominent Sydney family, he recalls a childhood marked by a growing distance from family, church, and Australia but also by early signs of his aesthetic vocation: the "noble" form of a freshly caught fish fills him with "a first stirring of desire for the Ideal." Stifled by Australia's cultural isolation, he fled to Italy and, later, London, which provides the backdrop for a savagely comic parade of sixties grotesques, from hippies ("stupefied herbivores nattering about karma") to his first wife, whose "near-programmatic infidelity" reminded him of a "deranged alley cat." Framed as a "settling of accounts" with his native country, Hughes's story occasionally becomes self-indulgently sour, but it offers a fascinating examination of artistic patrimony and the formation of a critic.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker