There’s a point near the end of this extraordinary novel when the poet Robert Graves is lost in obsessive rage and his accountant tells him ‘to grow up, to stop behaving like a child before it was too late, before he lost all credibility with his peers and his public.’
The accountant, however, is the only person who thinks Graves’ behaviour to be anything other than an entirely natural part of being a poet. Certainly not the author, Simon Gough, whose fictionalised autobiography this is and who, even at the age of 70 when this book was published is still clearly haunted by the events he recounts. Reading the final chapters, I longed to intervene, to shout at the young and emotionally highly-strung Gough, ‘it’s not your fault! You’re on the receiving end of a disproportionately violent temper tantrum from a man who was old enough to behave better.’
But then we tend to excuse atrocious behaviour in poets and artists as did those who orbited around Robert Graves in his Mallorcan paradise, worshipping him or being worshipped by him. He’s not the only creator of timeless art that you thank your lucky stars you didn’t have to spend any personal time with.
Anyway, the cause of this gargantuan rage is that the young Gough played his part in helping Graves’ ‘muse,’ Margot Callas, escape the obsessive poet’s clutches (although you think she may have left the frying pan for the fire of another needy poet but that’s another story.)
The whole situation is complicated by the teenage Gough’s own love for Margot Callas. Reading his account of that period is an intense and overwhelming experience. Goodness knows what it must have been like to have lived through because fifty-odd years later page after page pulses with the emotion and smarts with a still-vivid pain.
You won’t be surprised to learn that ‘The White Goddess’ is published by Galley Beggar which is rapidly getting a reputation for bringing individual and unusual writers to a book-hungry readership. They were behind the astonishing ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing’ which made such an impression on me at the beginning of the year (as you can read here if you’re so-inclined.)