There is not enough fiction in Hollywood and that’s a fact. Not enough Hollywood either, for that matter. Do not let the title of Gore Vidal’s new blockbuster fool you into thinking that it belongs – along with Myra Breckinridge, Duluth et al – to the slim, outrageous-fantasy side of his output (the side, you’ll remember, that actually entertains). Slab-like Hollywood, by contrast, is the latest hefty tablet of stone sent down from the mountain by Vidal in his other guise as America’s self-styled, if very much unofficial, biographer. With the swiftness of an elephant, it takes us from 1917 and the US dithering over whether to enter the Great War to the death, six years later, of Woodrow Wilson’s successor William Harding.
For the most part, the effect it has on you skilfully mingles the sensations of a hernia with those of indigestion. As it guides you through the bewildering power networks and dynastic entanglements of Washington society, there are too many passages like this, when the Democrat senator, Burden, welcomes the wife of the future Republican President to his party: