Dandy in the Underworld

I think it was William Burroughs who said that all junkies become the same person in the end. If that’s true, then it seems that the person they become is one who, if they ever kick their addiction, feels compelled to pen a memoir describing their self-inflicted hell in harrowing detail.

Sebastian Horsley is just such a recovering addict with a book out. What raises his above the rest, however, is that it is very funny.

Horsley is an artist and dandy of independent wealth who, in Dandy in the Underworld, writes in an impressively Wildean style about his various exploits. He is particularly strong on his childhood years, portraying an upbringing of startling insanity amongst the moneyed class.

So good is he at setting up his story, that much of what follows falls a bit flat. His wit can’t quite disguise the fact that the decadence he indulges in as an adult is pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Drugs. Prostitutes. More drugs. Actually being a prostitute. Heard it all before, I’m afraid. At this point, he’d need to engage in an act of horrifying perversion involving at least six members of the Royal Family, including Prince Philip, AND the funny-looking one from Girls Aloud before I could really give him my full attention.

Also, sometimes his wit fails him, and arch wickedness descends into plain misanthropy. For instance, here he is on his stepmother:

Where Mother had chosen to drink herself out of the world, Stepmother had chosen to eat herself into it. There is nothing remotely heroic about an eating problem. Worse than this she had no style. In India the elephants wear better emeralds.

This wouldn’t be so bad if later on, he went swimming with sharks and got all awe-inspired at their terrible power. Sorry, Sebastian, if you want me to care about your tedious sharks, you’ve got to care about my tedious human beings first.

Anyway, all in all it’s a good, clever book. Somewhere in-between My Booky Wook and The Naked Civil Servant.


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