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Book Report: The Wanton Chase

I admit that I picked up Peter Quennell’s The Wanton Chase in part because I need a Q for my author AtoZ. I still have J, O, U, V, X and Y to go, if y’all want to make recommendations, although I have two Js out from the library already, and I should probably start one of them, as soon as I finish the Pratchett. Anyway, I needed a Q and although I had never heard of Mr. Quennell, as far as I knew, he qualified. And it’s a hell of a title, innit? I don’t know if it counts as judging a book by its cover (which I certainly do and encourage people to do) but that’s why I picked it. Well, and the title page said it was an autobiography that picked up in 1939, and I knew from where it was in the library that it was a British author, so, you know, worth a shot, right?

It turns out that Mr. Quennell was one of those dines-with-more-famous-authors authors, which of course is right up my proverbial. Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Kingsly Amis, Constantin Brancusi, Augustus John, Esmond Lord Rothermere and Ian Fleming, George Duthuit, George Moore and Emerald Cunard, uswusf. I eat that shit up with a spoon. On the other hand, while the writing style and tone were amusing enough, the anecdotes were carefully anodyne and sometimes instead of coming to a conclusion just drifted away to nothing. It’s an odd book, that way; he doesn’t seem to get the point of his own stories.

The other thing about the book that really struck me was the way the mores have changed in fifty years or so. Marital infidelity is taken as a matter of course, and doesn’t reflect poorly on the unfaithful spouse. Sexual attraction toward the young, even to adolescents, is a quirk rather than a disease; he is amused rather than appalled. Racism, of course, both explicit and implicit. And then: his total blindness to working people of any kind, his inability to see waiters, servants or foreigners as humans, and his utter indifference to suffering of any kind. The callousness is a pose, of course, but that just begs the question: the mores have changed so much that a pose of indifference is strange and unpleasant, as opposed to… amusing?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,