It’s the claim of some books that they will change your life. Men in Black makes no such claim, yet it undoubtedly will if you read it. At its simplest – and the book’s apparently simple title proves to be the doorway to a brilliantly sustained, illuminating and subtle disquisition on the malaise of nineteenth- and twentieth-century English society – you will probably never put on a black garment again, man or woman, without resonating like a tuning-fork with the memory of what you have read. Even to those with keen awareness of dress codes, to put on a black anything will become a statement of previously unimaginable complexity.
As John Harvey warns, ‘Black matters are not clear cut’. Typically, black has been worn by the ‘basic cast of power-dressing: the priest, the prince, the merchant’, and signals mourning, power and money. That’s the simple bit, for its ramifications can spread from sinisterly prolonged mourning (Hamlet, Philip II of