An Encyclopaedia of Myself

Jonathan Meades

LONGLISTED FOR THE SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE 2014

‘Nothing wilfully invented. Memory invents unbidden.’

The 1950s were not grey. In Jonathan Meades’s detailed, petit-point memoir they are luridly polychromatic. They were peopled by embittered grotesques, bogus majors, vicious spinsters, reckless bohos, pompous boors, suicides. Death went dogging everywhere. Salisbury, where he was brought up, had two industries: God and the Cold War, both of which provided a cast of adults for the child to scrutinise – desiccated God-botherers on the one hand, gung-ho chemical warriors on the other. The title is grossly inaccurate. This book is, rather, a portrait of a disappeared provincial England, a time and place unpeeled with gruesome relish.

Reviews of An Encyclopaedia of Myself

    • ‘Meades [is] an original in the best sense of combining deep knowledge and keen observation with a genuinely individual viewpoint … The richness of vocabulary is as pleasurable as his honesty is bald … The era is wonderfully reconstructed, the words so impastoed that everywhere you can feel the grain of times … By far the best picture of the 1950s I have read’ George Walden, The Times
    • ‘If this book is thought of less as a memoir than as a symphonic poem about postwar England and Englishness – well, then it is a masterpiece … Meades is a sort of apocalyptic John Betjeman, and the descriptions here rank with the late poet laureate’s eye for detail and nose for nostalgia’ Roger Lewis, Financial Times
    • ‘A vivid and sometimes haunting portrait of a lost England … Seldom has the suffocating sense of self-absorption of the siblingless, of loneliness and boredom and of precocity, imagination and alienation, been more powerfully illustrated … Every page bristles with informed analysis and cogent argument’ Andrew Anthony, Observer
    • ‘A dazzling confection of grown-up sophistication and schoolboy intensity of feeling. Meades may be pushing 70 years old, but like a more literate William Brown or an angrier Nigel Molesworth, he is still energetically kicking at everything that comes his way’ Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph
    • ‘A brilliant stylist; he seldom writes a boring sentence’ Lynn Barber, Sunday Times
    • ‘This book is a riot … [Meades] writes with such force and originality … Meades is already a cult. This book will make him more so. It is a true literary achievement, and one’s only regret is that a sequel is not already at hand to be read straight away’ Simon Heffer, Literary Review
    • ‘[Meades] vividly conjures a vanished world … I loved this book. Meades is a very great prose stylist, with a dandy’s delight in the sound and feel of words, and we are lucky to have him’ Ian Thomson, The Spectator