With a deceptively informal, tell-it-all style, John Mortimer has woven a complicated tapestry whose artistry combines private, professional, moral, and philosophical dimensions and transmutes autobiographical fact into creative fiction. He had already turned himself, his barrister-father, and his father’s contemporary, Sir Edward Marshall Hall, into what would become several novels (and a television series) about the fictive Rumpole of the Bailey. Critics reviewed his autobiography as a work of art. A masterpiece of “allusive compactness”—the phrase coined by one reviewer to describe Mortimer’s style—the book comprises a succession of descriptive-narrative personal anecdotes that acquire stature beyond themselves as Mortimer endows them with vivid details in farcical language that creates a near-Rabelaisian, larger-than-life quality.
His father looms as a colossus to the boy, as he thunders to his wife instructions about the garden and then demands that she report to him the progress of the impressive collection of plants, many of them rare. Unforgettable also is the boy’s mother, whose own life after her marriage had gone underground. Titans, the parents take their son to restaurants, followed by attendance at the theater, where the blind father requires deafening whispers describing the play’s action. Passively, Mortimer’s reticent mother joined her husband in refusing to speak of personal feelings or, for that matter, of her...
(The entire section is 1078 words.)
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