Diski is an immensely elegant prose stylist. The “terror of the human condition” includes the success of many deplorable idiots. She describes her “real desolation” as she surveys the empire of “vacant celebrity and tawdry sensationalism” over which Piers Morgan holds sway - then describes Tony Blair as his twin. She demolishes the ghastly Richard Branson as “a triumph of lack of style over substance”, then finishes him off with: “He cried when he announced to his staff that he’d sold Virgin Music, but flatly refused to share with those who lost their jobs any of the £560 million he made from the sale.” Describing Howard Hughes’ life of obsessions, she writes: “It begins with twelve peas on a plate and ends with urine stored in Mason jars.”
As Diski says, “Cultural studies leave no stone unturned”, and she herself looks under many stones and makes many unexpected connections. She is curious about everything. This wide-ranging collection is a tribute to her, and to her friend and editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, who brought out the best in her. Many writers envied the space that Wilmers gave her, but few could have made such good use of it.
In her introduction, Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the LRB, writes: “One of the pleasures of reading Jenny Diski, especially the essays, is that pleasure is such a large part of it.” Diski was worth hiring on any subject: feed her base metal, she turned it into gold. When not writing about herself, she is at her best considering the nasty and/or nondescript. Her subjects include Jeffrey Dahmer, Howard Hughes and Richard Branson, and she does not let Christine Keeler get away with a stuffy, faux-respectable take on her past. It is only because she has forced her way through “every damn word” of Keith Richards’s coarsely self-serving autobiography (in which he reveals Mick Jagger has a “tiny todger”) that she is determined to go ahead with her review. She is the most undeceived of writers – and surprising. Who else would combine reviewing a biography of Denis Thatcher with a reading of Melville’s Moby-Dick?... Her writing will forever remain young, funny and rebellious. And her essays – dare I say it – earn a blessing even when what they consider is cursed.