Friday, August 8, 2008

Simon Gray’s Coda

Simon Gray died on Wednesday aged 71. Already many obituaries have been published on both sides of the Atlantic, most of them focusing as much on his diary writing as on his plays. Earlier this year, a third volume of his so-called Smoking Diaries were published, entitled The Last Cigarette, and another volume - Coda - is scheduled for publication in November.

Gray was born in Hayling Island, Hampshire, and educated at Westminster School and Cambridge. He married twice, the first time to Beryl Kevern, with whom he had two children, and the second time to Victoria Rothschild. In December 2004, he was awarded a CBE for services to drama and literature, having not only written more than 30 plays but taught English for many years at London University’s Queen Mary’s College.

There are a multitude of obituaries of Gray already available online, each one noting how much of a diarist he had become of late. The Daily Telegraph obituary starts as follows: ‘Simon Gray . . . was a prolific playwright of black comedies, and thrived off professional and personal conflict; during the last decade he found a new audience with a series of memoirs . . .’ And The New York Times obituary begins: ‘Simon Gray, who wrote bitingly comic plays like Butley, Otherwise Engaged and Quartermaine’s Terms about the educated British middle class and whose almost manically confessional late-in-life memoirs turned his sardonic intelligence upon himself, died on Wednesday in London.’

The Diary Junction Blog mentioned Gray recently, when The Last Cigarette was published, in an article entitled Smoking, heroin and opium (and it pointed to several online extracts of Gray’s diaries). Now it seems another, and presumably final, volume of diaries is to be published later this year - Coda. Because Granta is also a publisher (like John Murray - see Lees-Milne’s centenary) that doesn’t bother with a website, here is the blurb from Amazon.

‘It’s coming up to 4 am on a Friday morning, and I’ve just promised myself, a self loaded with and lightened by a couple of sleeping pills, that I will go on with this tomorrow. So begins Simon Gray’s powerful account of the year in which he struggles to come to terms with terminal cancer. From heartbreaking reflections on his own mortality to characteristically outrageous asides - ‘everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who was given six months to live, and here they are, only just dead, eight years later or, in exceptional cases, here they still are, eating oysters and boring the shit out of people’ - Gray’s self-proclaimed ‘last written words on the subject of myself’ records his extraordinary emotional journey. . . Written with exceptional candour and a poignant reluctance to leave this world behind, Simon Gray’s Coda is as life-affirming as it is heartrending.’

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