Lucky leader

By JAMES PARKER  |  June 12, 2007

There was something a little bit Sophoclean, of course, in the emergence of Kingsley’s second son as a balletic and freakishly illuminated Nabokovian/Bellovian stylist, cannoning in from the wings with his tights on fire. Having ignored or misprized the flaunting mastery of the Russian and the soul-enlarging properties of the “Ukrainian-Canadian,” the old devil was forced to confront them in the novels of his boy Martin. (His solution was simple and predictable: don’t read them.) I could have done with a bit more on this from Leader; then again, we do have Martin’s 2000 memoir Experience for all of the father-son business. Every other compartment of Kingsley’s life — the drinking, the philandering, the clasped, mischievous, occasionally slightly fetid atmosphere of his correspondence with Philip Larkin — seems to have been fully explored by author, with his findings braided into an attentive discussion of the novels. There’s even, for good measure, a thorough demolition of the character of Kingsley’s previous biographer, Eric Jacobs (now deceased). No question: in the roped-off ring of Kingsley studies, Leader gets the smackdown.

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