Adam Mars-Jones is a logic‑chopping polymath whose writing sings with cleverness and wit, and yet there is something relentless about this book. It may be a question of organisation – there are no divisions into chapters or even breaks between paragraphs. The fluency is persuasive – there is nothing confected or forced about the digressions that surround the anecdotes – but also, on occasion, off-putting. The writing bears down on the reader – much, perhaps, as Mars-Jones senior bore down on his listeners in the courtroom, as he built his cases.
It is the underlying honesty – to his own, and to others’ selves – that makes this book not just funny, but wise as well. The comedy comes from perception and insight, and a meticulous attention to language and meaning. As for the style: to read the flow of his sentences is how I imagine a cat feels when it is stroked. To call him one of the best writers in the country seems a pointless equivocation, for, at the moment, I can’t think of anyone better.
It is easy to see this memoir as a seizing of filial advantage, a way of getting in the last word (finally!), of speaking for as well as about his father. But Adam Mars-Jones is mindful of the dangers of the posthumously unassailable position. His portrait is respectful as well as being undeceived. It is essentially benign. He finds himself wondering, as his father loses his grip in old age, whether his character has been a “long charade, both professional and familial, undertaken between the dreaminess of his own childhood and the undefended state to which he was returning”. The account (almost an aside, told without swanking) of caring for his father is especially touching. He reproaches himself mightily when his father gets a sore on his heel. As he is changing the dressing, his father says, “Dear Adam”, which completely takes him aback.