Surely almost everyone must have read and enjoyed this book’s forerunner, The Smoking Diaries, and, having done so, wanted more? Well, now they have got it and it is just as good. But I have to confess a problem with Simon Gray’s diary, or ongoing life story. Much of it is devoted to the annoyances, embarrassments and absurdities of old age – to what Gray calls ‘a developing sense of decay and imminent death’. Being twenty years older than he is, I find it impossible not to feel ‘What’s he going on like this for? He’s only in his sixties, for god’s sake!’ Perhaps he feels so decrepit because of his health. He drinks nothing but Diet Coke because, one is given to understand, he used to hit the bottle hard enough to shake him up, and he still smokes heavily… ‘Ass!’ think I, having managed to give it up when I was sixty-three.
But this won’t do, a man is as old as he feels. Perhaps a way to overcome this problem might be seeing him as being eighty-seven, not sixty-seven (as he was when he ended The Year of the Jouncer). It needs only a small effort of the imagination. Eighty-seven. There!