Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Book review - Kilroy is Here by Gordon Willis


Eminently elusive and enigmatic, Gordon Willis produced only this one book before disappearing into whatever mysterious netherworld these `cult writer` types inhabitat. At least the one he produced was a good one !

`Kilroy` was probably never going to reach a wide audience but certainly it deserves it`s reputation as a bizare, but in many ways compassionate, work of the imagination. Generally, my taste in books is fairly conventional, but I can be flexible about these things.

The mood and style of writing vary as the book progresses. In the first section, a character finds an aspidistra growing out of his back, a situation that is to push him to the very fringes of society. His reaction, however, is admirably adaptable ; 

"Fully grown, it`s leaves were pliant and it was possible, by carefully arranging them under a shirt, to dress after a fashion...He did not foresee himself wearing special costume."

The second part concerns the Kilroy of the title, and his period of employment by the avaricious, psychopathic Felix Grunt. Grunt is strangely likeable (to me anyway).  I especially enjoyed his comments on the fate of a number of decapitated previous employees ; 

"The sharp edges you know. Got the wind up. Panic. Lacked the inner poise. Still, their heads come in handy." 

The third part concerns Felicity and Kilroy, who find themselves in an unenviable position, encased in concrete in the base of a statue. Here the writing is almost ike a kind of poetry ;

"Day breaks starkly. People try to carry out their plans. In the evening imagination fires hope yet again. Day breaks. Felicity holds her memories like a bomb inside her."

Also interesting is the author`s use of phrases rarely heard in conversation now - "on his tod" , "got the wind up" - phrases one used to hear pretty much daily, but now passed from the spoken language and rarely encountered outside the pages of 1940s Sexton Blake mysteries. 

I do not know, but presume it is now out of print. One wonders whether it`s reputation will fade in time. Personally, I hope not, but that`s me - ever the optimist !


As regards Gordon himself, little is known, or at least not known by me. My spies tell me he grew up in Derby but subsequently moved south. I  like to imagine that he outwardly lives the life of a recluse, whilst in reality being the centre or hub of some vastly complicated international conspiracy, though I suppose that`s unlikely.

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