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The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
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Feb 14, 2008

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Read in February, 2008

“When the telegram announcing my father’s death arrived, I felt nothing except irritation at the thought of having to go home, attend the funeral, and come back.”

Quentin Crisp is not a likeable human being. About one quarter way into this book, I was tempted to throw it aside for good. But given its generally favorable reviews, I felt I should give it another chance. And a peculiar thing happened. Although Crisp does nothing to present himself in a more favorable light – if anything, he goes out of his way to make the point that the reader’s approval matters nothing to him – by the two-third mark, one cannot help but develop a grudging admiration for the man.

It’s hard to know why this happens – perhaps just a case of sympathy for the underdog. Crisp was born in a time when homosexuality really was the love that dare not speak its name, and made his mark by never obliging those who would have him live life in a shadow, instead choosing to flaunt his difference. This book is an account of the price exacted. While the reader may be moved toward a grudging admiration for Crisp’s refusal to be ground down by the prejudice and cruelty surrounding him, it’s impossible to feel any real sympathy for the man. Because, ultimately, this is the autobiography of a narcissist. Reviews of this book invariably mention its wit and brilliant self-mockery, qualities I found singularly absent. Given a 200-page book in which no other character appears as remotely human, as anything other than a sketch or cipher, and in which the author admits to never having loved, or been loved, the final effect of this strangely empty memoir is bleak indeed. I feel a certain admiration for Quentin Crisp. But I can’t say that I enjoyed spending time in his company.
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Comments (showing 1-3)

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Robert I liked Crisp from the outset; his cynical and biting wit came across, to me at least, as just that: humour. He mentions many times in the book that he is very polite and he certainly seems to be, but he has a sharp tongue and a knack for clever paradoxes.

message 2: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook Not wanting the bother of Dado's funeral makes Quentin a likeable fella in my book. ~ I skip all funerals. Pagan rituals, they are.

David They may well be pagan rituals, but so what? Most people (me included) would argue they fill a real need.

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