Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

The Smoking Diaries

Simon Gray

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Smoking Diaries

Title: The Smoking Diaries
Author: Simon Gray
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 2004
Length: 240 pages
Availability: The Smoking Diaries - US
The Smoking Diaries - UK
The Smoking Diaries - Canada

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

A- : sharp, fun, touching

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A+ 13/4/2004 Charles Spencer
The Guardian . 10/4/2004 Jenny Diski
The Guardian A 5/3/2005 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent . 23/4/2004 Roger Lewis
New Statesman . 3/5/2004 Beryl Bainbridge
The Observer A+ 18/4/2004 Stephanie Merritt
The Spectator . 17/4/2004 Alexander Chancellor
Sunday Telegraph A+ 18/4/2004 Robert Hanks
The Village Voice A 22/8/2005 Darren Reidy

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Smoking Diaries reveal an insouciant resilience of spirit and an eye for the revealing comic detail, that leave the reader feeling unexpectedly elated. This is a moving, wildly entertaining classic of the memoirist's art, and one I can't recommend too highly." - Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

  • "Gray plays the game brilliantly in The Smoking Diaries, which, while no doubt utilising the facts as they happened, is as cunningly formed an artifice as any overt fiction. (...) Did I mention that this is a very funny book, a bit of a masterpiece of grim humour, bound to make you howl ?" - Jenny Diski, The Guardian

  • "Yet it is by some way the most substantial of Gray's memoirs, with a continuous tone of disgruntled drollery that is hugely and consistently entertaining. (...) It's a book to curl up with." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Although Gray's diaries seem like unedited streams of consciousness (streams polluted with rusty old cans and frothing with insecticides), the prose is beautifully choreographed, swooping and rambling and grumbling, with digressions and second thoughts." - Roger Lewis, The Independent

  • "What is life-enhancing about this book, which appears to have been begun while sitting on some beach abroad, is its humanity and sunniness, despite its references to death, disease and lack of money. (...) This is a very good book about life and death. It should be read with a cigarette in hand, though not necessarily lit." - Beryl Bainbridge, New Statesman

  • "(T)he funniest extended meditation on mortality you are likely to read. (...) Often, all his themes bleed into one another; his prose is a wonderful torrent of thoughts, asides, rhetorical questions and digressions, and he cultivates a deliberate curmudgeonliness as if in recognition that old men are both comic and tragic figures. (...) The Smoking Diaries is a gorgeous black comedy whose effect is to make the reader long for one dinner in the author's company, but to accept the book as the next best thing." - Stephanie Merritt, The Observer

  • "He is tremendously curious and observant. And he writes wonderfully. It is all most encouraging to those of us who are getting on a bit. The Smoking Diaries, though seeming to ramble, don’t really ramble at all. They dip backwards and forwards into his life, apparently at random, but have some hidden structure that perhaps even he doesn’t understand, just as he doesn’t understand why he was a ‘natural’ as a teenage footballer. He takes you, the reader, away from where you are before you are ready, but then returns -- often much later in the book -- to answer the questions that have been nagging at you. You might not think it possible to generate suspense in a book like this, but he does it all the same." - Alexander Chancellor, The Spectator

  • "(Y)ou are unlikely to come across a funnier, cleverer, more painful book this year – unless you can get hold of a copy of his last book, Enter a Fox. (...) Gray jumps aboard every train of thought, chases down ever hare he starts, wanders down every nostalgic byway until the trail peters out; but however far Gray strays from the point, however roundabout and self-indulgent he gets, the propulsive force of his anger keeps you reading." - Robert Hanks, Sunday Telegraph

  • "A brilliant, nattering catalog of self-doubt and moldering memories set against the twilight monotony of local bistros and stodgy beach resorts, Diaries subverts the predictable storytelling arc that plagues so many memoirs. Yet its apparent haphazard form remains psychologically sound and graciously unaffected." - Darren Reidy, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Smoking Diaries isn't a typical diary-volume. The entries aren't dated, and the focus isn't entirely on the present. Simon Gray does recount a variety of experiences from his sixty-sixth year, but there's a good deal of reminiscence as well.
       He begins the book two hours into his sixty-sixth year, feeling every bit the old man (in body, if not spirit) and hovering between resignation and irritation. He's given up drink -- apparently a few more drops would kill him straight off, after the abuse he's subjected his body to -- , but keeps up his tremendous cigarette habit.
       Mortality is an issue throughout: close friend Harold Pinter is diagnosed early on with cancer, and Gray worries about him throughout the volume. Ian Hamilton is another constant reminder, as are the deaths of various relatives, and Gray also eventually gets diagnosed with cancer (without getting overly concerned about it).
       All this makes for a reflective volume, with Gray filling in a good deal of biographical detail as he recalls his childhood (in Canada as well as England), his parents, siblings, and other relatives. The contrast with his descriptions of a fairly comfortable day-to-day life -- holidays abroad, odds and ends back in England -- is effective; a general satisfaction always interrupted by minor (and major) annoyances. For once, the play isn't the thing: there's little play-writing or producing going on, as Gray focusses on his personal life, past and present.
       The success of the book is in its tone: Gray is irascible, on occasion, but also generally at ease. If he hasn't quite mellowed with age (there's a sharp bite to a lot of the writing), he's, by and large, comfortable with his existence (even if it's less than ideal):

I'm overdrawn at the bank, in debt all over the place, have pretty well no income. On the other hand I don't really mind. Some years back I would have minded. But some years back I could have afforded it.
       (He eventually briefly describes the worst of his financial disasters, which included setting up a container business, and investing in Lloyd's. Financial advisors -- gotta love 'em !)
       There are sparks of anger at contemporary society, including, repeatedly, modern child-protection laws, as he notes, for example, that his mother liked to slap the kids around:
I suppose these days a mother like Mummy would be spending a lot of time in the courts and jail even, but we live in exceptionally stupid days, nasty and stupid
       There are also the somewhat surprising appreciations of Steven Seagal ("I am a Steven Seagal fan") and the TV series Law & Order:
I love this series -- love ? Love Law & Order ? -- did I love my father ? I don't think -- Do I love Law & Order ? -- I know I do.
       Gray doesn't shy away from his own faults and weaknesses, admitting many an error and misjudgement (and, at this point, taking them pretty much all in stride), and not afraid to bumble about a bit on the page (or even to fall asleep while writing, in mid-sentence ...).
       The Smoking Diaries is funny and touching, a nice summing-up of a life, not focussed tediously on biographical detail but still tremendously revealing. Very appealing (even if Gray himself isn't always), and an enjoyable read.

- Return to top of the page -


The Smoking Diaries: Reviews: Simon Gray: Other books by Simon Gray under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       British author Simon Gray (1936-2008) wrote numerous plays, as well as works of fiction and non-fiction.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2004-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links