2010: 111. The Noel Coward Reader    

"I like looking at the mountains because they keep changing, if you know what I mean; not only the colours change at different times of the day but the shapes seem to alter too."  (First Line of "Me and the Girls")

The Noel Coward Reader, edited and with commentary by Barry Day

      This is a collection of Noel Coward’s writing, encompassing plays, poems, song lyrics, and short stories (even excerpts from his few novels), arranged and edited by Barry Day, who is something of a Cowardologist (I believe* he also wrote a biography, edited his letters, etc.).  I loved reading the book - really enjoyed reading Coward in all his forms, and thought Day did a nice job in choosing and arranging the collection.  I was generally familiar with Cowards plays and songs, but his prose writing was new to me, and I really liked it.  In fact, if Coward is known for his arch and witty writing in verse and play form, I think his short stories (such as the one I quote the first line to above), while still funny, seem more real and less flip and should be better known.  The best of them reminded me of the best Dorothy Parker short stories (another person better remembered for her witty, if sometimes arch poetry than her stinging short stories).  If you don’t know “the Master” (as Day constantly calls Coward), this would be a great introduction, and even if you already know Private Lives and “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” I think you’d enjoy the expanded repertoire.

          My only quibble with the book is the way Day arranged it.  He tells the story of Coward’s life through his writing, such that he sometimes tells about the 1920’s by including a story set in the 1920’s, no matter when it was written, and other times includes things when they were published (like putting Private Lives in the 1930’s section).  In doing so I think he makes two mistakes - muddling the chronology of the piece, and two, assuming that all writing is biographical.  In doing so, Day gets in the way of Coward himself.  A more precise book would have been even more powerful.

Categories:  Fiction, Library Book

*But am too lazy - and waaaay too behind in my blog - to confirm. 

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017