Fading Glitter

Final Demands by Frederic Raphael

Books Literature
Upwardly mobile: Tom Conti as young Adam Morris in "The Glittering Prizes"

What’s that you’re reading?”

“Frederic Raphael’s new novel.”

“Frederic without a K, isn’t it?”

“Not even an MBE, as far as I know.”

“After a lifetime of service to literature. Seems unfair.”

“What’s fair? That’s pretty much the theme of the book — or rather the trilogy.”

“They say all good things come in threes.”

“In this case, they’d be right.”

“Didn’t he write The Glittering Prizes, that marvellous TV serial we all watched in the Seventies, about his Cambridge generation jumping in and out of bed with each other and then going on to…”

“…fame and fortune. That’s the title of the second volume. Glittering Prizes was the first.”

“As I recall, he sent them up rather deftly.”

“Well, by now he’s sending them up to the hereafter. They’re in their own seventies and going to meet their Maker at regular intervals, but still outquipping each other whenever they meet. They’re all so verbally dexterous they make Oscar Wilde sound like John Prescott.”

“Quip while you’re ahead.”

“That sort of thing. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating.”

“Or just ex-Cambridge?”

“Maybe. Three years’ soft labour and the rest of your life on parole.”

“The dialogue style seems to be contagious.”

“Sorry.”

“Wasn’t the central figure in Glittering Prizes fairly obviously based on Raphael himself?”

“Adam Morris, yes. A successful screenwriter and novelist who wins an Oscar very young and is in a permanent rage about everybody else’s failure to appreciate his talents. And haunted throughout his life by his Jewishness, though he claims not to be religious.”

“When is the new novel set?”

“At the start of the Blair era.”

“So how is the old Adam?”

“Some life left in him yet. Raphael can still write the most marvellous scenes. The new book has plenty: a Los Angeles literary panel where Morris is assailed by an anti-Semitic black academic, an encounter in the Hyde Park underpass with a mugger which leads to Morris being accused of racism by the policeman who comes to interrogate him…”

“A PC PC.”

“Inspector, actually. Incidentally, there’s a brief section on Morris/Raphael’s advice on writing which every aspiring novelist ought to read. Better than a year on a fancy creative writing course, and a lot cheaper. And there’s a wonderful confrontation with the youthful editor of a new monthly magazine, Options, whose editor persuades Morris to invest in it.”

“No prospect of telling me which magazine it might be based on?”

“You can have a stab. As does this editor chap. He publishes a violently anti-Israel article by the progressive historian Gavin Pope, another of Adam’s Cambridge contemporaries, which epitomises the way in which many on the Left have moved, under cover of criticism of Israel, to a position which borders on open anti-Semitism. And Morris/Raphael tears him to shreds over it. Terrific stuff. “

“Timely, too. So has Morris finally come to terms with being Jewish?”

“Maybe. It’s the thread which runs from the beginning of the trilogy right through to the end. There’s a touching scene in Glittering Prizes when Adam pulls out from his wallet a photograph of a little boy with his hands up, a Jewish kid on his way to extermination. ‘Part of the full story,’ Adam says. ‘I always carry it.’ Indeed he does. If there’s a message to take away, it’s that blood, whether that of his immediate family or the wider Jewish one, is thicker than water. And certainly Cam water.”

“Who’s the publisher?”

“Someone called JR Books.”

“So Raphael finally struck oil?”

“I doubt it. I’d never heard of them, had to look them up. Small publisher, they did the hardback Fame and Fortune too, and the trilogy in paperback. Amazing that one of the big boys didn’t leap at publishing a new novel by a writer of Raphael’s stature. But that’s exactly the sort of thing Adam Morris is bitter about: the decline of literary London, the ghastly superficiality of the whole film and media world and its headlong descent to the lowest common denominator.”

“Or lower. Sounds as if that K is further off than ever.”