Mr Heller was a Hollywood screenwriter, responsible for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Dirty Dozen among others, all of which, as his daughter dryly observes, “bear the imprint of his rather bleak wit”. She has inherited this, as well as his writing talent. And in a final punchline (hers is the only piece here to go for the twist-in-the-tale ending beloved of inferior short-story writers, but in this case perfectly delivered), ZoÃƒÂ« now finds herself married to a man “16 years my senior, somewhat saturnine in temperament and — with galling Freudian symmetry — a Hollywood screenwriter”.
There is something truly appalling about this monstrous volume, which brings Norman Sherry’s three-part life of Graham Greene to an end. Really, all that needs to be said is that the biography as a whole contrives to be over 2,000 pages. I don’t believe that any biography, no matter how well documented the life or significant the subject, needs to be as long as that — and, remember, this is not a life of Dickens or Joyce or a really important writer but one of Graham Greene. What can justify such prolixity?
(Emphasis supplied; thanks to Dave Lull for the tip.)
Martin Amis – who, as he used to remind people on the dust jackets of his novels, was awarded a Formal First at Oxford – has written, “I wish I could work out how to use the subway. I’ve tried. No matter how hard I concentrate, I always end up clambering out of Duke Ellington Boulevard with a manhole on my head.”
According to those who have been coming here for years — a large number of whom seem to be perma-smoking, impossibly elegant middle-aged European women, somewhere between Camille Paglia and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate — Frankfurt is not quite as it was. Before the advent of email, when synopses and manuscripts could not be zipped across continents, it teetered close to being a theatre of the absurd. Publishers would frequently be locked in reading rooms — having signed documents agreeing not to take notes — and expected to write cheques on the basis of a 20-minute skim. It doesn’t seem to have made for the most level-headed of atmospheres: the daily Frankfurt edition of Bookseller magazine features a quote from a publisher at Bloomsbury, recalling the time she bought the UK rights to Isabel Allende’s magic realist classic The House Of The Spirits, ‘by mistake, under the impression it was a biography of the widow of Salvador Allende’.