Admirers of Simon Gray will not be disappointed by this last volume in his trilogy of ‘smoking diaries’. Many of the topics he treats are now familiar: the delights of swimming, the miseries of air travel, the pains and humiliations of the decaying body, and then, more sombre still, the deaths of close friends or family members. Interspersed with reflections on these matters are vivid memories of his childhood in Canada and his student days in Cambridge, while throughout there is the old story of his none-too-heroic battle against nicotine addiction, alcohol having long since made a sad but forced withdrawal from his life. The theatre bulks large, as it must do for a writer who is best known for his plays, and the second half of this book is largely taken up with an account, both comic and poignant, of a trip to New York in the autumn of 2006 for a revival of Butley, a work once closely associated with his friend Alan Bates.
Describing the contents of a Simon Gray diary in no way explains what makes it such a pleasure to read. One could say it is a question of style. Gray has made himself the master of the instantaneous present, the here and now. He writes a lightly punctuated