Nonetheless, for all its eccentricities, the book marks the beginning of what one hopes might be serious studies of James’s work. There’s certainly much essential information here and lots of things I didn’t know, including details of James’s various medical conditions — leukemia, emphysema, kidney failure — which transformed the poor chap in later life, in Shircore’s rather unfortunate though vivid phrasing, from ‘the ebullient, non-stop, globetrotting, motormouth, motor brain Aussie we had known for so many decades into a doomed and depleted invalid’. I did not know that James spent a couple of months in a psychiatric ward during the early stages of his final illness, and I’d forgotten exactly how close he was to Princess Diana
So Brightly at the Last offers an account of James’s poetic career, moving from his satires of the 1970s to the elegiac lyricism that characterised the verse of his final years. Drawing on those poems, and considering the circumstances that led to their composition, the book also aims to a provide a picture of James’s complex and often fugitive character. Shircore handles these tasks with care and wit, while keeping half an eye on James’s personal failings (most notably his romanticism and infidelity) and artistic shortcomings (many of which arose from a habit of producing too much).