Book review - Bitter Experience Has Taught Me

Nick Lezard is one of our finest book critics and his insightful reviews in The Guardian are a pleasure to read. He also writes a jocular, blokey column in the New Statesman called 'Down and Out', describing his exploits as a recently separated, middle-aged bachelor behaving badly and looking for love.  Lezard's self-confessed tendency towards laziness is demonstrated by the way Bitter Experience Has Taught Me has been assembled – this “memoir” is literally Lezard’s collected columns with little attempt to turn his journalistic discourses into a more free-flowing book form, link the segments or remove irritating repetitions.

There is a whiff of misogyny in Lezard's patronising reference to “ladies” and in his efforts to score cheap shots against his former wife . Although the tone is self-depreciating, he is careful to advertise only the sort of failings one would happily share among friends in order to raise a smile – indolence, untidiness, smoking, being addicted to red wine and a hopeless dancer. Lezard is less open about why he was kicked out of the marital home by his wife just a few months short of their twentieth anniversary. One can only presume that she had been extremely long-suffering.

Lezard is prone to name-dropping; there is a lacklustre essay on the art of using a toaster; and his charm deserts him when he comes to write about the women who have rejected him. Caveats aside, there is much to divert and admire. Lezard is an matchless raconteur when it comes to penury, tax-returns, slobbishness, male vanity, Boris Johnson or anything that makes his blood boil (and that’s quite a lot). He’s good company, has plenty of friends, and adores his children – in one hilarious episode he sacrifices all self-respect when (against his better judgment) he goes paint-balling on his son’s birthday. Other memorable anecdotes include the arrival at his new home, “the Hovel”, which he describes as “the saddest place I have ever seen” (it’s dilapidated, yes, but it is the salubrious location of Baker Street), and a drunken night spent playing cricket with Razors, his flatmate and best friend, equally down on his luck.

Despite his frequent laments, you know Lezard will always bounce back. Hate or love the character he projects, he is a talented writer and this lively and entertaining apologia will surely attract further fans.

Originally published by The Tablet