May Week Was in June
"May Week Was in June is the third part of Clive James's not entirely reliable memoirs. When we last met our hero in Falling Towards England, he was living a hand-to-mouth existence while London was swinging its way into the Sixties. Pembroke College, Cambridge, offered a way out, if not up...
"At the freshmen's drinks 'it struck me on the spot that if the English have spent their lives preparing to fit into one of these places, then the only smart thing to do was not to bother fitting in at all.' And that included lectures. Clive decided he'd done Donne, and threw himself into Footlights instead. In fact, he threw himself into anything - film reviewing, writing poetry, falling in love (often) - anything, so long as it wasn't on the curriculum. So uncommitted was he to his work that when his exam results had him down as a 2:1, he thought it was a misprint. It wasn't, so he applied for a research grant to evaluate Shelley's reading of the major Italian poets. It seemed appropriate to go where Shelley had gone, and anyway Françoise was in Florence.
"He spent as much time on his PhD as he had on his degree. One hour a month, or less. He became literary editor of Granta, wrote for the New Statesman, took Footlights to the Edinburgh Fringe, and worked on Expresso Drongo, arguably the worst film ever screen at the NFT. Then during May Week, which was not only in June but was two weeks long, he married...and most of the rest is history. Inevitably sharp and always outrageously funny, Clive James is perhaps most brilliant on the subject he knows best: himself."
First Paragraph of the Preface
Somebody once said that a trilogy ought ideally to consist of two volumes. Unfortunately he never said anything else, so his name is forgotten. When I set out to write Falling Towards England, the second volume of my unreliable memoirs, I honestly menat it to be the end of the enterprise. Gradually it became clear, however, that my entry into the University of Cambridge marked the beginning of a further episode, whose events, while less than awe-inspiring on the scale of cosmology, would suffer distortion if compressed into a few chapters. I could have made room at the back of the book by cutting the front, but it was already cut. The nuances, after all, were everything. It would not have been enough to say that I was a failure in London. One had to convey the way failure felt: how the clothes slept in to keep one warm looked wrong next day, how a letter of rejection could be distinguished from a letter of acceptance before it was opened, how one drank to quell one's nagging conscience about having borrowed the money with which to drink. In the next generation, young people needed a heroin habit to live like that. I managed it through sheer talent. Cambridge was my way out, if not up.
From the Jonathan Cape hardback edition, 1990.
This book is subtitled Unreliable Memoirs III.
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Last modified: October 8, 2003.