Last Post by Frederic Raphael - review by Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines

A Few Modest Observations

Last Post

By

Carcanet 522pp £30
 

‘Frederic Raphael is too clever by one quarter,’ Gore Vidal said. The two men had once made a radio programme together about the ancient world. ‘I suspect,’ Raphael admits in Last Post, ‘I was a little grand with him when it came to the detail.’ The broadcast must have been startling: two highly competitive men, of the sort that the English used to disparage as ‘cleverboots’, vying to have the sharpest retort and the most decisive put-down.

Raphael and Vidal have much in common: both novelists and Hollywood scriptwriters who reached their acme as literary essayists and social commentators; both mordant satirists and purveyors of disinterested malice; both gifted with rich and inventive intellects, and swiftly roused to contempt by liars, double-dealers, dunderheads, complacency, phoniness and infantilism.

In Last Post, Raphael, who is now in his nineties, has written well-aimed Parthian shots in the form of twenty-two letters to the dead. His epistles are studies of individual temperament and personal destiny, but also chronicles of literary, cinematic and social history. In places they resemble the 17th-century

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