book review eccentric lives the daily telegraph book of 21st century obituaries

Book Review: ‘Eccentric Lives: The Daily Telegraph Book of 21st Century Obituaries’

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There aren’t many famous people in the book. One sort of famous one is Mark E. Smith, the belligerent lead singer with the band the Fall, who died in 2018.

In his obituary, The Telegraph, which knows a good line when it sees one, quotes a journalist for The Independent who said, “Mark E. Smith will be remembered as a man who believed that the pen is mightier than the sword, but who did not always have a pen to hand.”

There are a lot of touchy and snappish people in this book, including a famous drunk whose hangovers were so awful that “on one cold day he complained of the noise that the snow made as it landed on his bald head.” Ezra Pound once said that he’d never known “anyone worth a damn who wasn’t irascible.”

One of the books in The Telegraph’s obituaries series is devoted to “Priests and Prelates.” The eccentricities of religious dignitaries aren’t as funny as they used to be.

There is an obit here of the Right Rev. Eamon Casey, an Irish bon vivant who left the country after he was found to have fathered a son. The boy’s mother, described here as “a 26-year-old American divorcée,” wrote a memoir in which she asked about his abilities in the bedroom: “He was a goddamn bishop. Where had he learnt all this?”

This collection’s editor, Andrew M. Brown, worries that true eccentrics are becoming rarer. Reading him, you can’t help but wonder if you are among them, or even close. Some days I feel like the most eccentric person I know; other days I feel as dull as a pot of soaking beans. Maybe you have similar swings of feeling.

One core quality of eccentrics, Brown writes, is “a kind of vitality.” Take the Latin lover Maurizio Zanfanti, who was so popular with women, tourists especially, in his Italian seaside hometown, Rimini, that he slept with 200 of them each summer, about two a day.