Thursday, March 17, 2016

Empire of Self: a life of Gore Vidal

by Jay Parini

Gore Vidal hated the biography that was published while he was still alive. I don't think he would have taken much more kindly to this one, but then that's one of the essential paradoxes of narcissism: the narcissist doesn't want to see his true reflection; he is enamored of his self-image. An honest yet respectful, occasionally even tender, biography with its subject's narcissism — his "empire of self" — as leitmotif might also seem like a paradox, yet here it is.

Nicely written, comprehensive, and entertaining book about a fascinating figure in American literature, cinema, and political and social commentary. A solid 400 pages that's not a fast read but not a slog either, this book shows Vidal's genius, his foibles, his humanity. Not as amusing as his own memoirs, particularly Palimpsest, but a clear-eyed portrait drawing on numerous people and perspectives.

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