Known for his journalism, biographies and novels, A. N. Wilson turns a merciless searchlight on his own early life, his experience of sexual abuse, his catastrophic mistakes in love (sacred and profane) and his life in Grub Street – as a prolific writer.
Before he came to London, as one of the “Best of Young British” novelists, and Literary Editor of the Spectator, we meet another A. N. Wilson. We meet his father, the Managing Director of Wedgwood, the grotesque teachers at his first boarding school, and the dons of Oxford – one of whom, at the age of just 20, he married, Katherine Duncan-Jones, the renowned Shakespearean scholar.
The book begins with his heart-torn present-day visits to Katherine, now for decades his ex-wife, who has slithered into the torments of dementia.
At every turn of this reminiscence, Wilson is baffled by his earlier self – whether he is flirting with unsuitable lovers or with the idea of the priesthood. His chapter on the High Camp seminary which he attended in Oxford is among the funniest in the book.
We follow his unsuccessful attempts to become an academic, his aspirations to be a Man of Letters, and his eventual encounters with the famous, including some memorable meetings with royalty.
The princesses, dons, paedophiles and journos who cross the pages are as sharply drawn as figures in Wilson’s early comic fiction. But there is also a tenderness here, in his evocation of those whom he has loved, and hurt, the most.