Horrors and Cream

Hugh Tulloch

  • On the Edge of Paradise by David Newsome
    Murray, 405 pp, £17.50, June 1980, ISBN 0 7195 3690 1

Dining at Hatchett’s restaurant in September 1903, Arthur Benson observed his image reflected endlessly and from a variety of angles in mirrors around the room. He was to fill 180 volumes with almost five million words in an attempt to scrutinise and sharpen that blurred mirror image. Diaries can, of course, appear an ambiguous genre: they aim at a natural flow of unself-consciousness, but the diarist cannot remain entirely unaware of the prospective reader peering over his shoulder. Aiming ostensibly at truth, they often succeed only in playing labyrinthine games. ‘Anyone,’ Benson says, ‘might think that they could get a good picture of my life from these pages; but it is not so.’ David Newsome, invited and challenged, has entered the labyrinth, drawing the rest of us with him into an implacable game initiated by the diarist. The mirrors and images multiply, with Newsome, the reviewer and the reader locked together in observation, and the self-gratification of the diarist continues posthumously. The obsessive voyeur is now, in turn, the object of the voyeuristic reader, though the diarist continues to set the rules and limits of the game. He can choose, if he so wishes, to stop at the brink of some suggestive enormity: ‘Saw a strange thing happen – a door opened – of which I must not say more.’ Or, just as a terrifyingly deformed portrait can be consigned to the attic, so can the diarist exert all his powers of literary subterfuge to hide the truth from his reader and from himself.

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