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The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa

Vintage, 2007, 234 p including 18 p Appendix (containing a 3 p Afterword and 15 p Fragments of the novel with some sonnets) plus xxiv p Foreword. Translated from the Italian Il Gattopardo (Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, 1958) by Archibald Colquhoun. Foreword and Afterword by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi. Foreword and Appendix translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman.

The Leopard cover

The good lady read this as it was one of David Bowie’s 100 Favourite Books and she subsequently passed it on to me. Its back cover blurb has a quote from L P Hartley saying it is ‘Perhaps the greatest novel of the century’. It is good but I wouldn’t go quite so overboard as that.

The setting is Sicily at and after the time when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was absorbed into the new Kingdom of Italy during the Risorgimento. The leopard of the title is Don Fabrizio Cabrera, Prince of Salina, whose family emblem, carved as gateposts on his estate, is always translated as such. (More strictly speaking, a gattopardo is not a leopard but a serval, which appears on the Lampedusa family coat of arms.) The character of the Prince is based on one of the author’s ancestors.

It seems that despite its reputation as a classic the novel is also effectively unfinished. In the foreword we are told that from after first publication up till his death the author had been revising, updating and writing new chapters to be interpolated into the text. This edition contains all this new material with the fragmentary chapters plus some poems attributed to the Prince appearing in the afterword.

The Leopard is a chronicle of the decline of the old Sicilian aristocracy and its replacement by new money and new ways – a decline already in train but accelerated by the altered political dispensation. It delves into the relationships of the Prince with his family, his dog Bendicò, his mistress, the locals and the family priest, Father Pirrone. What plot there is centres on the marriage of the Prince’s nephew Tancredi, an enthusiastic follower of Garibaldi and favoured by Fabrizio over his own sons, to Angelica, the beautiful daughter of a local peasant made good (or in Don Fabrizio’s eyes, bad,) Don Calogero Sedàra. Perhaps in an attempt to broaden the book’s scope to wider Sicilian society one of the interpolated chapters describes a visit of Father Pirrone to his home town where he resolves a dispute involving land and a potential marriage.

A sense of melancholy, of things passing, pervades the novel, captured by the sentences, “A man of forty-five can consider himself still young till the moment comes when he realizes that he has children old enough to fall in love. The Prince felt old age come over him in one blow.” On the other hand the brashness of youth, its lack of knowledge that the bloom will fade, is illustrated when Angelica thinks, ‘“Boys at that age are like dogs; one has only to whistle and they come straight away.’”

Don Fabrizio reflects that the new Italy has had an inauspicious start when the local result of its confirmatory plebiscite is announced as having no votes against. The particularities of Sicilian experience are shown by his declaration, “‘We are old Chevalley, very old. For over twenty-five centuries we’ve been bearing the weight of superb and heterogeneous civilisations, all from outside, none made by ourselves, none that we could call our own….. for two thousand five hundred years we’ve been a colony…. ….we’re worn out and exhausted.’” But the Prince is not beyond self-criticism. “‘The Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect.’” However, the tone for me was lightened at one point when the assembled Salina family was served up a “macaroni pie”. To a twenty-first century Scot that designation has quite a different meaning than it has to anyone Italian…..

Later Don Fabrizio reflects, “We were the Leopards and Lions; those who take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals and sheep, we’ll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth,” and realizes no Salina can really take his place, “The significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions… its vital memories, and he was the last to have any unusual memories.”

The book is in effect a threnody for the perceived lost glories of the Lampedusa family. In that, it may stand as a metaphor for any sense of loss.

Pedant’s corner:- bandoleer (I’ve not seen this spelling of bandolier before,) scrutator (the usual word for someone supervising an election is scrutineer,) “extortioners of their own dependants” (extortionists?) “the valise, which in the end was born by both knightly contenders” (was borne,) arch-type (archetype?) a missing quote mark before a piece of direct speech.

David Bowie’s 100 Books

The good lady has decided to go along with the online book club started up by Duncan Jones in honour of his father David Bowie.

The full list of David Bowie’s 100 Books was given earlier in The Independent.

This prompted me to take a look and see how many I’d read. The usual notation applies. Bold I’ve read, italic is on my shelves.

Interviews with Francis Bacon – David Sylvester – early 80s

Billy Liar – Keith Waterhouse – early 60s

Room at the Top – John Braine – early 60s

On Having No Head – Douglass Harding – mid-60s

Kafka Was The Rage – Anatole Broyard – 1995

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess – mid-60s

City of Night – John Rechy – mid 60s

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz – 2007

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert – 1980s

Iliad – Homer – late-70s

As I lay Dying – William Faulkner – early- 80s

Tadanori Yokoo – Tadanori Yokoo – 1973

Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Döblin – late 70s –

Inside the Whale and Other Essays – George Orwell – early 60s

Mr. Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood – late 60s

Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art – James A. Hall – 1975

David Bomberg – Richard Cork – mid-90s

Blast – Wyndham Lewis – 2009

Passing – Nella Larson – 1983

Beyond the Brillo Box – Arthur C. Danto – early 90s

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – Julian Jaynes – late-70s

In Bluebeard’s Castle – George Steiner – early 70s

Hawksmoor – Peter Ackroyd – 1987

The Divided Self – R. D. Laing – 1964

The Stranger – Albert Camus – mid-60sk

Infants of the Spring – Wallace Thurman – 1992

The Quest For Christa T – Christa Wolf – 1979

The Songlines – Bruce Chatwin – 1987

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter – 1984

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov – early 90s

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark – late 60s

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov – late 60s

Herzog – Saul Bellow – early 80s

Puckoon – Spike Milligan – 1973

Black Boy – Richard Wright – early 80s

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald – early 70s

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima – 1972

Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler – early 90s

The Waste Land – T.S. Elliot – mid-70s

McTeague – Frank Norris – 2000

Money – Martin Amis – 1984

The Outsider – Colin Wilson – 1964/5

Strange people – Frank Edwards – early 60s

English Journey – J.B. Priestley – 2011

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole – early 2000s

The Day of the Locust – Nathanael West – mid-80s

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – mid-60s

The Life and Times of Little Richard – Charles White – 1985

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock – Nik Cohn – 70s –

Mystery Train – Greil Marcus – 1976 s

Beano – Comic – 50s (I only looked at other people’s copies.)

Raw – Graphic Comic – 80s

White Noise – Don DeLillo – 1985

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom – Peter Guralnick – late 80s

Silence: lectures and writing – John Cage – 1975

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews – Edited by Malcolm Cowley – mid-60s

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll – Charlie Gillete – 1972

Octobriana and the Russian Underground – Peter Sadecky – 1973

The Street – Ann Petry – early 80s

Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon – 1995

Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby, Jnr – late- 60s

A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn – early 2000s

The Age of American Unreason – Susan Jacoby – 2008

Metropolitan Life – Fran Lebowitz – 1978

The Coast of Utopia – Tom Stoppard – 2003

The Bridge – Hart Crane – mid-2000s

All The Emperor’s Horses – David Kidd – Late 1970s

Fingersmith – Sarah Waters – mid-2000s

Earthly Powers – Anthony Burgess – early 80s

The 42nd Parallel – John Dos Passos – 2006

Tales of Beatnik Glory – Ed Saunders – 1975

The Bird Artist* – Howard Norman – 1995

Nowhere To Run: – The Story of Soul Music – 2006

Before the Deluge – Otto Friedrich – 1976

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson – Camille Paglia – 1990

The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford – 1970

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote – late 60s

Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence – 1961

Teenage – Jon Savage – 2007

Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh – early 60s

The Hidden Persuaders – Vance Packard – around 1962/3

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin – early 70s

Viz – comic – early 80s (I only ever flicked through this in shops.)

Private Eye – Satire Magazine – 60s through 80s (Only other people’s copies.)

Selected Poems – Frank O’Hara – 1974

The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens – early 2000s

Flaubert’s Parrrot – Julian Barnes – 1985

Maldodor – Comte de Lautréamont – late 70s

On The Road – Jack Kerouac – 1960

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders – Lawrence Weschler – 1995

Zanoni – Edward Bulwer-Lytton – 1975

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual – Eliphas Lévi – 1975

The Gnostic Gospels – Elaine Pagels – 1980

The Leopard – Giusseppe Di Lampedusa – 2001

Inferno – Dante Alighieri – 1985

A Grave for a Dolphin – Alberto Denti di Pirajno – mid 70s

The Insult – Rupert Thomson – 1996

In Between the Sheets – Ian McEwan – 1978

A People’s Tragedy – Orlando Figes – 2000

Journey into the Whirlwind – Eugenia Ginzburg – 2002


I’ve read eight (but the three comics/magazines not assiduously) and there are three on the tbr pile.

I can’t see me working through them all.

*Edited to add:- The good lady tells me she has this one on her shelves. Consider it italicised.

Pedant’s corner:- Halls Dictionary (Hall’s Dictionary,) Giusseppe Di Lampedusa (Giuseppe.)

Reelin’ In the Years 144: Sixty Years On/Have Mercy on the Criminal. RIP Paul Buckmaster

Master musical arranger Paul Buckmaster died last month. I only got to know about it when his obituary appeared in the Guardian. I first knowingly encountered Buckmaster’s work on Elton John’s second album Elton John but I had heard it before on David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Buckmaster’s importance to the overall sound of that eponymous album is most to the fore on Sixty Years On. I hadn’t heard anything like that on a pop record before (not even from The Beatles) except possibly for the orchestral backing to Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends on the Bookends album.

Elton John: Sixty Years On

Elton’s next two studio albums Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water also used Buckmaster’s arrangements to great effect as did his film score for Friends but his presence was missing on Honky Chateau. Elton turned to Buckmaster again with the stunning Have Mercy on the Criminal from Don’t Shoot me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Elton John: Have Mercy on the Criminal

Paul John Buckmaster: 13/6/1946 – 7/11/2017. So it goes.

NAT TATE An American Artist 1928 – 1960 by William Boyd

21 Publishing Ltd, 1998, 71 p.

NAT TATE cover

Complete with cover flap comments from David Bowie and Gore Vidal attesting to its subject’s importance this is an account of forgotten US artist Nathwell ‘Nat’ Tate, whose final artistic act was to burn as many of his works as he had managed to lay hands on (“perhaps a dozen survive”) before committing suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry. The usual biographical conditions apply, obscure origins, father unknown, mother died young, adoption by her rich employer (emphatically not Tate’s father but an avid admirer and buyer of his work,) an influential teacher at Art School, chance viewing of his work by the founder of a gallery, socialising with other artists, the development of his style – aslant to that of his contemporaries and details of which Boyd provides – descent into alcohol, meetings with Picasso and Braque, disillusionment. The text is interspersed with photographs of three of the surviving paintings and various important stages of Tate’s life, four of which depict Tate but in only one is the adult artist the sole subject. Boyd gives us a convincing, if short, portrait of an artist and his life.

Yet the story of Tate is of course entirely fictitious. Not fictional, such biographies imagining the circumstances and lives of real people abound, but fictitious. Tate never existed. He is a total invention by Boyd.

On the book’s publication in 1998 the cover picture, containing as it does a cropped version of that black and white photograph of the adult “Tate” obviously photoshopped over a coloured one of New York, might have provided a clue to those not in on the joke but anyone at all familiar with Boyd’s work coming to it post hoc would be immediately aware of its confected nature on its first mention of Logan Mountstuart, protagonist of the author’s 2002 novel Any Human Heart. Boyd would also employ photographs to an equally verisimilituding end within the text of his 2016 novel Sweet Caress.

A hint of Boyd’s purpose in writing this book (apart from sending up the hagiographic artistic biography of the forgotten genius) may be gleaned from the passage where there are speculations on possible reasons for “Tate”’s destruction of his work and his suicide. “Tate was one of those rare artists who did not need, and did not seek, the transformation of his painting into a valuable commodity to be bought and sold on the whim of a market and its marketeers. He had seen the future and it stank.”

Pedant’s corner:- “the layers of white turps-thinned paint that was repeatedly laid over them” (Boyd treats this as if paint is the subject of the verb laid; that subject is in fact layers, hence “were laid”,) swop (swap.)

Reelin’ In the Years 132: Changes

Following last week’s offering from Black Sabbath here’s a more famous Changes – the Bowie song, here taken from BBC sessions. To my mind there’s a lot more energy in this live version than the LP track.

David Bowie: Changes

Glenn Frey

Well. This is getting scary.

Lemmy, David Bowie, Alan Rickman and now Glenn Frey all within a few days/weeks.

It makes you wonder who’ll be next.

Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman; 21/2/1946–14/1/2016.
Glenn Lewis Frey; 6/11/1948–18/1/2016.

So it goes.

Joining the Wildest Side

Lou Reed has died.

Member of The Velvet Underground (of whom it was said that not many people bought their records but everyone who did rushed out immediately and formed a band) and inspirer of David Bowie plus countless others.

He became well-known in the UK due to the song Walk on the Wild Side becoming a hit. Much, much later Perfect Day was turned into a magnificent BBC promo video.

I suspect everyone will be posting one or other of the above two tracks so here’s another of his better known songs.

Lou Reed: Satellite of Love

Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed:- 2/3/1942 – 7/10/2013. So it goes.

Reelin’€™ In The Years 66: John I’€™m Only Dancing. RIP Trevor Bolder

Two days in a row. Yesterday Ray Manzarek, today Trevor Bolder, bassist for David Bowie in the breakthrough years and sometime member of Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash. It makes you dread waking up in the morning.

The track I’€™ve chosen isn’t one of the most played from the Ziggy era but it shows off Bolder’€™s bass playing.

Trevor Bolder; 09/06/1950 – 21/05/2103. So it goes.

David Bowie: John I’m Only Dancing

Reelin’ In The Years 58: All The Young Dudes

Yesterday at school one of the pupils mentioned a road safety programme called, “Safe Drive, Stay Alive.” My mind immediately flashed to, “Don’t want to stay alive, when you’re twenty five,” and the unforgettably named Mott The Hoople with this David Bowie song.

Mott The Hoople: All The Young Dudes

And here’s Bowie’s version.

David Bowie: All The Young Dudes

How Others See The Faker

I caught the preamble to Call Me Dave’s launch of the Conservatives’ manifesto today. Over the PA they were playing all sorts of songs with “change,” “changes” or “better” in their lyrics – except of course D:Ream.

Did the Tories have permission to do this?

One of the songs was Bowie’s Changes, which contains the line “Don’t want to be a richer man.”

I don’t suppose Dave does: he comes from money and took good care to marry even more.

The song also has, “You’ve left us up to our necks in it.” Was this a prediction, Dave?

Look out you rock ‘n’ rollers.

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