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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Postillion Struck by Lightning. Dirk Bogarde. Phoenix (1977)

A charming and engaging autobiography of childhood and young adulthood. Dirk Bogarde structures the book in two parts, the first recounts his time in the Garden of Eden, the second his expulsion from it and his progress in a harsher world. The Garden of Eden is rural Sussex where he could wander in the countryside with his sister largely free from adult supervision and interference. The big events are a visit from a relation a few years older who is a burden as she does not enjoy rural life and the campaign to win a canary at a local fair.
The expulsion from Eden was started when another child was born and the issue of Dirk Bogarde's persistent educational failures became pressing. Dirk was sent to Glasgow to stay with middle-aged childless relatives, to study at a technical school there. This was a savage dislocation from his previous life, he did not fit in at school, continued to fail and was a mystery and a concern to his relatives. Finally returning home and trying to evade his fathers efforts to guide him to a place with "The Times" newspaper, Dirk tried to start a career in acting. This is what he really wanted to do with his life as his account of his starting years just as the shadow of the Second World War started to darken.
While Dirk Bogarde is the narrator in this book, it is not centrally about him, the charm and warmth of the book lies in the wonderful cast of family, friends and aquantinces that crowd through the pages. His assertion that he never wished to be a star, rather be an honest and respected actor is borne out in the way he does not hog the limelight. The descriptions of rural Sussex, Glasgow and pre-war London are vivid and the details are sharp and telling. The writing is vivid and direct, he is hardest on himself. This is a hugely enjoyable book, a pleasure to read.

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