The Late Boy Wonder
Ace, New York, 1969
The blurb on the back:
Colin Slade, at the ripe age of eighteen, decided that he was a failure. As a member of the 'with-it' generation, he always seemed to be without it. So after a disaster as a poet and money-maker, he tried to commit suicide...
'Angus Hall handles the bizarre convolutions of the plot with expert glee.' - Books & Bookmen
Don't be fooled by the publishers or by the cover art, this is a British book. Angus Hall was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne and the novel's set firmly in South London (our narrator lives in Hilly Fields, for all you Nick Nicely fans). And it's a lovely little satire on the fading, foolish remnants of Swinging London: all art-house movies, phoney yogi and power-architects.
The basic storyline of someone who knows he'll never make it in modern society, tries to opt out and by accident finds himself a massive success, is not exactly original, but the writing's sharp, the speed is infectious and the sheer scale of his success - in every field he approaches - is splendidly over-the-top. It's full of great set-pieces, particularly the punch-up at Alexandra Palace between some neo-Teds and the Fraternity of the Feather (the successors to the Flower People).
For us students of Sixties culture, it's also interesting in the protagonist's decision that modern life is rubbish and that he's going to seek inspiration instead from the Twenties and Thirties, even to the extent of wearing a racoon coat allegedly once owned by a man who lent Bix Beiderbecke ten dollars. It wouldn't be long before that nostalgia trip took over popular culture.
Incidentally, I've included a detail of our hero from the cover not simply because I fancy him, but because the rendering has so little point of contact with the text. Here is his own self-description:
This edition was published to coincide with a movie version titled Up In The Cellar, made by exploitation kings American International, which relocated the action to the States and which starred Wes Stern, Joan Collins and Larry Hagman. I've not seen the movie, but the Radio Times Guide To Films, which I take seriously, gives it a four star review, so if it ever turns up, I'll try to catch it.
Meantime, I'd recommend this book, pausing only to point out that my copy is signed by the author, and to wonder whether he's the same Angus Hall who wrote books on the occult and murder in the 1970s. I guess he must be.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5
Auberon Waugh, A Bed of Flowers