Sunday, 8 October 2006

Martini bookcover; KnopfReview: Martini: A Memoir, Frank Moorhouse (2005)

Excessive pedantry about anything can be tiresome and bewildering. This book, which takes about three hours to read from cover to cover, avoids such pitfalls by displaying a mordant wit and trenchant irony. Humour is the overriding sensibility, good-natured banter, mainly between the narrator, Frank Moorhouse, and his American friend Voltz, the dominant method.

When the book has exhausted the topic of martinis — how to mix, drink, appreciate and savour them — Moorhouse gives us the low-down on some of the main characters he has introduced in the course of the preceding chapters. These people have been important in his life. There is much here of interest to the would-be biographer.

The book's presentation is stylish and whimsically spicy, a sort of modern-day salute to the Art Deco era. The endpapers are delightfully patterned and each chapter begins with an ornate header illustration.

In tying up loose ends of his life, Moorhouse discloses his bisexuality in a candid and unashamed way that is in keeping with the tone of his fiction throughout his life. He has always been a bit of a bon-vivant and a robust aesthete, looking to further his experiences without hurting others. A man of his times, he was born in 1938 and so, today, is clearly a healthy sestagenarian.

In 'A Letter to My Drinking Companions Around the World' Moorhouse sets out his parameters:

This memoir is not a comprehensive overview of my life or my relationships and is not meant, therefore, as a complete diagram of my life now or in the past. It is, in the main, a ruminative set of memories and ideas triggered by a consideration of the martini and its folklore. Nothing more or less. It is, in a way, a commonplace book of personal notes, a project of connoiseurship and folklore. And as I look back, surprisingly, a small project of self-reconciliation.

A delightful read and well worth getting hold of. This book contains some writing of a complexity that is not immediately apparent, that rewards close reading.


R H said...

I'll be on the lookout for it.

I see similarities with Hal Porter (dear boy), my favourite Australian author. Contrived comedy doesn't amuse me at all, what amuses me are people living out their lives in a way that's natural to them but absurd to all others.

Sam TwyfordMoore said...

Let me start with this: I am a huge, huge Moorhouse fan, ever since I was lent a copy of Futility and Other Animals and then The Americans, Baby. This however is one of the most dull books I have ever read. For such a short work it is incredibly strenuous and goes on and on and on and on and on about Martinis. Best read after about 14 of the slippery suckers. In the words of a little Scottish band, 'Fuck this shit'.