I didn’t feel up to writing a new post over the weekend, so this old post from a year ago will have to do.

*****

Not jealous. Envious. With jealousy there’s a sense that you wish to deprive somebody of something they have. Envy is much more akin to admiration.

I was musing about this over the weekend, prompted by a book I was reading. Said tome is Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I admire this man’s writing immensely, and love his attitude to the endearing ludicrousnesses of the world. He sounds British, even though he’s Iowan by birth. Here was his take on Communism. I expect this is a popular topic of discussion for my urban warrior elite.

‘It has long seemed to me unfortunate-and I’m taking the global view here- that such an important experiment in social organisation was left to the Russians when the British would have managed it so much better. All those things that are necessary to the successful implementation of a rigorous socialist system are, after all, second nature to the British. For a start, they like going without. They are great at pulling together, particularly in the face of adversity, for a perceived common good. They will queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets and sudden inconvenient shortages of staple goods, as anyone who has ever looked for bread at a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon will know… They have a natural gift for making excellent jokes about authority without seriously challenging it, and they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and powerful being brought low… I’m not saying that Britain would have been a happier, better place under Communism, merely that the British would have done it properly.’

Now if you don’t find that funny, I despair of you. It’s bloody priceless. And it’s so elegantly written. Very stylish, without being at all stylised. Some of the better Victorian novelists could manage this. Jerome K Jerome was a marvel at linguistics, as was his contemporary H G Wells. Arthur Conan Doyle had his moments too. The far side of the Pond you’ve had Melville, for example. It’s a hard act to pull off.

We can’t ignore Pelham Greville Wodehouse either. More recently, Arthur C Clarke. Asimov, though he tends to rattle on a bit for my liking.

There’s also any number of writers who are stylised, and yet I admire for never labouring the point. Anthony Burgess wrote an entire novel, A Clockwork Orange, in an imaginary language. I know James Joyce had a couple of cracks at that, but his works are tediously impenetrable, whereas A Clockwork Orange is immediately understandable. That takes skill. Martin Amis, when he’s on the boil, is a wonderful stylist.

I aspire to write well. I try hard, and think I’ve finally solved the case, and suddenly read something approaching genius and I have to go back to the drawing board. I’m envious. Not jealous. Envious. And admiring.

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