Resident Alien: New York Diaries by Quentin Crisp - review by Henry Porter

Henry Porter

Is This Our Quentin or Is it Dame Edith Evans?

Resident Alien: New York Diaries


HaperCollins 256pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

When he was seventy Quentin Crisp grasped that America was the place for his special kind of celebrity and decamped to Manhattan, there to live in a rooming house on the Lower East Side. That was fifteen years ago and the old boy reports in his New York diaries that the move has been a great success. Crisp is now one of the corps of celebrities you will find at pretty much any New York gathering – at fashion shows, book launches or breakfast seminars about the life of Oscar Wilde.

At each he holds court with his tremulous and antique deference, admitting to anyone who asks that he has no talent whatsoever, except for being himself. He describes a symposium on fame held in 1993 that was attended by Clive James, Anna Wintour, Harold Evans, Norman Mailer and Fran Liebowitz, a list which gives you precisely the tenor of this comically solemn evening, and makes you thankful that you weren't there. Better than most he seems to understand celebrity and remarks to his neighbour: 'In the rest of the world fame is something that happens to you, whereas in the United States it is something to do - a career in itself.'

This simple observation, heralded by the New York gossip columnist Liz Smith as a great aperçu, has been his guiding principle in New York, and his fame has spread outwards from the Bowery district to all of America's great cities, which have summoned Crisp by limousine and private jet to

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