Monday, 19 March 2012

George MacDonald Fraser: The Light's On at Signpost (2002)

Best known to me as the author of the fantastic Flashman novels, George MacDonald Fraser turns out from this volume of memoirs to have also been involved in the scriptwriting for a number of well known films of the 1970s, and to have had a lot of strongly held opinions,  both of which he was able to write about in an interesting if sometimes irritating manner.

The wildly diverse material in this book is helpfully divided into appropriately titled alternating sections, either Shooting Script or Angry Old Man, with Interludes - comment difficult to fit into either category - interspersed every so often. This means that the reader with little tolerance for political ranting but an interest in the cinema can read self-admittedly star struck reminiscences of films from The Three Musketeers to Superman and Octopussy; and the Daily Mail-reading UK Independence Party supporter can confirm their prejudices without bothering with the cultural memories. (Even if you agree with everything he says, however, I think that the tone of the latter sections would become wearing after a while.) Reading them both, though, has a jarring effect due to the contrast in tone between vitriolic rage at the state of Britain at the start of the twenty-first century, and affectionate enjoyment of the opportunities to work with a long list of stars. The Light's On at Signpost presents a schizophrenic reading experience, and is hard to enjoy.

Fraser lived at this time on the Isle of Man, and the book's title is a Manx expression. Derived from the practice of turning on a light at the top of a signpost when a rider in the TT motorcycle road race is nearing the end of the final lap, it is used to indicate how near death Fraser felt (though  in the end he lived for another six years, producing two more novels and another volume of non-fiction). The book basically contains the things that he wanted to say before he would no longer be able to, and it has for this reason something of the feel of a series of blog posts. At the end, Fraser describes the book as a "mixed bag", and that is a pretty exact description of what it is. It was interesting to read once, but I certainly won't be picking it up again now that I have.

I'd rate the film sections at 7/10, and the angry old man sections at 3/10, which averages to a rating of 5/10 for The Light's On at Signpost as a whole.

Edition: HarperCollins, 2003 (Available to purchase from Amazon here)
Review number: 1453

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