Looking for a Way Up
- BuySelf-Portrait as a Young Man by Roy Strong
Bodleian, 286 pp, £25.00, March, ISBN 978 1 85124 282 5
It is difficult not to admire Roy Strong, though there are moments in this account of his first 32 years where he seems to be doing all he can to make it easier. Born in 1935, he became in 1967 the youngest ever director of the National Portrait Gallery. It was a remarkable achievement, but by mentioning it three times in the first seven pages Strong begins at an early stage to try the reader’s patience. The description of himself as ‘the young director’ occurs so frequently it becomes almost a Homeric epithet, while the reader, if nodded to at all, features as ‘the average’ or ‘the ordinary’. Yet despite the exasperation he provokes – for all the vanity, the boasting, the famous names not so much dropped as fired like grapeshot on page after page – it is worth persisting, for by the end Strong’s memoir of his childhood and early career presents a compelling, original and oddly touching picture of a life and a time.