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November/December 2014
 
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The Condemned Playground, by Cyril Connolly (1945)


THIS collection of essays and squibs by the high priest of literary Modernism includes some cruelly funny satires—like "Ninety Years of Novel-Reviewing," designed to crush the hopes of any budding fiction critic—and mordant parodies.

"Told in Gath" elegantly sends up Aldous Huxley's early novels, with a country house called Groyne hosting a high-society party that glitters with rhinestones of too-clever dialogue. At the weekend's climactic séance, someone accidentally breaks a tube of anthrax bacilli and apocalypse looms. "Death! the distinguished visitor!" is awaited with appropriate sang-froid: "After all, what is anthrax?"

"Year Nine" spoofs every sf nightmare of totalitarian dystopia, especially 1984 by Connolly's Eton school-chum George Orwell. England's past heritage is being offically erased by dull civil servants like the doomed protagonist, who's led astray by banned Degenerate Art: "Jewlysses. Winagains Fake." Farcically betrayed, tortured and condemned, he still loves Big Brother. "Yes, I have been treated with great kindness."

Surprisingly, "Year Nine" first appeared in 1938—eleven years before 1984, two years before Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Connolly must have been reading Zamyatin's We (trans 1920).

The later Previous Convictions (1963) includes his most infamous parody, "Bond Strikes Camp." Here Agent 007 faces his toughest ever challenge when, to entice an arch-villain with specialized tastes, he must climb into drag as "Gerda Blond." Will Q Division's advanced equipment ("The very latest in falsies—foam rubber, with electronic self-erecting nipples") be enough to carry Bond through this tightest of tight spots? You must read the story.

—David Langford

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