Existentialists ahoy


It’s not mandatory for all existentialist writing to involve  depressed young men from France and mitteleuropa.

Try New Orleans, Ireland and England instead. And cut out the depression.

Two novels and a memoir, classics all and often funny with it. Which is appropriate for those who consider much of life as a subtle cosmic joke, a basic survival technique when dealing with NHS management, stupid politicians, annoying relatives etc


The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy, from 1961

Percy was a deep southerner with a witty detached style, observing, in the first person, the life of a New Orleans Korean war veteran, Binx Bolling.  A young man with the knack of making money, he drifts between women, a dysfunctional family, the movies and hints of catholic redemption.  It reads like a reflection on Percy’s own life.  A beautifully written piece which is,  as Stravinsky said of Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue – “contemporary forever”.

The Book of Evidence by John Banville, from1989

Why did Freddie Montgomery murder, why did it not really bother him, and why did he not try to evade capture? Banville drifts through the antihero’s unhappy,intense experience, with a gleeful mordant wit.


The Missing Will, by the magnificent Michael Wharton from 1984

Wharton as Peter Simple was one of the funniest men in the English language. His first memoir wanders the globe from the high fells of Yorkshire to Oxford, India, Rome and South Africa. His dissolute solipsistic world reads like that of an Evelyn Waugh character, with episodes of transcendence piercing the fog, “the numinous” as Wharton calls them. Unavailable for a long time, it is now back in the catalogue. Everything about Wharton is fascinating, and there is a growing number of web references that laud him, try the obituaries here, here, here, here and here.


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