Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (1885)

A stupendous shit and an incorrigible cad.

Not the first sign of madness, but the protagonist Georges Duroy.

His blatantly ironic nickname, Bel-Ami, typifies the duplicity coursing through this deliciously unsettling book.

His secret to success in four words? Use your wily willy. Five? Erm. Get off to get on.

Well, well, old boy, I hope you realise you really do hit it off with the ladies? You must cultivate that. It could take you far… they’re still the quickest way to succeed.

And boy, does he slather on the ‘charm’. It’s a shame to see it abused so. And the trust that goes with it. Makes you shiver.

But before we look at some gems, let’s put down a marker and reflect on author Laurie Lee’s sense of pure charm (from his excellent 1975 collection of essays, I Can’t Stay Long).

Charm in a man, I suppose, is his ability to capture the complicity of a woman by a single-minded acknowledgement of her uniqueness…

of being totally absorbed, of forgetting that anyone else exists…

it’s what a man says that counts, the bold declarations, the flights of fancy, the uncovering of secret virtues…

[it] strikes deepest when a woman’s imagination is engaged, with herself as the starting point, when she is made part of some divine extravaganza…

a woman is charmed by what she hears...

So. Here’s Bel-Ami. Being cheesy about a lady’s earring.

It’s charming,… but the ear must take some of the credit, too.

Oh, please.

When I love a woman, everything else vanishes apart from her.

Sir Percy Squirm.

And here’s His Oilyness pecking hands.

He kissed them one after the other and then, raising his eyes, he said simply: “Heavens, if only I’d met a woman like you, how happy I would’ve been to marry her!”

Le beurre ne fondrait pas dans sa bouche. (Good, eh?)

But to be honest, they’re all it. Boys and girls, some astute enough to clock it in others.

Feel the venom in this riposte to Bel-Ami from one of his long-time tootsies, Madame de Marelle. Makes your eyes sting.

You’ve behaved like an utter cad ever since we’ve known each other… you go around deceiving and exploiting everyone and everybody [ouch], you take your pleasure when and where you like and money from anyone who’ll give you it and you still want me to treat you like a gentleman.

Yee-haw. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. (Must remember to do the dishes.)

Semi-Autobiographical of Maupassant? Perhaps. The pox boxed him.

Thanks for being here.

Buy Bel-Ami (free delivery, in cardboard)

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A Curious Career by Lynn Barber (2014)

Wish I’d been intimate with Lynn Barber. Got in the offie queue by mistake.

Perhaps some of the how-to-interview magic might’ve rubbed off.

While we’re at it, let’s get that stunning run rate out of the way. From Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.

[Barber] “…I did sleep with an awful lot of people in about two terms…”

[Young] “… How many?”

“Oh, probably fifty.”

“Right.”

“It was quite good going.”

“And they’re quite short, those Oxford terms, aren’t they?”

“Absolutely. I was jamming them in.

Nicely done, Young, asking about the term lengths. So let’s have some tips from Barber. About interviewing.

I wish I’d read A Curious Career before the eyebrow-raising encounters in Mostly Men (1991) and Demon Barber (1998). [List of interviewees below.] I would’ve loved savouring how she does it before reading them.

If you don’t get to read A Curious Career first either – do read a copy when you can, it’s good fun – here’s why her interviews are so yummy.

Funnily enough, they’re mostly don’ts. So, six top tips to interviewing…

Don’t write in anything but the first person.

Don’t wing your prep (I used to do that all the time at school). Research to know what hasn’t yet been talked about before.

Don’t interview boring people, wives, husbands, lovers or victims. (Might be some tautology in there, somewhere.)

Don’t express your own opinion – in fact, try not to talk much.

Don’t always believe everything people say. If they say they’re not snobbish, not racist, not sexist, and that they love their children they’re probably fibbing.

Don’t forget that best interview question is always, ‘Why?’.

Don’t look at me, guv’nor.

Thanks for being here.

Buy A Curious Career (free delivery, in cardboard)

Buy Mostly Men (free delivery, in cardboard)

Buy Demon Barber (free delivery, in cardboard)

Mostly Men: Barber grills Richard Adams, Margaret (Duchess of Argyll), Jeffrey Archer, John Aspinall, Tony Benn, The Beverly Sisters, Ronald Biggs, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Bolt, Melvyn Bragg, Roald Dahl, Kirk Douglas, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, Zsa Zsa Gabour, J Paul Getty II. Bob Guccione, Richard Harris, David Hart, Barry Humphries, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Sir John Junor, Barry Manilow, Howard Marks, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolph Nureyev, Ken Russell, Sir James Savile, Muriel Spark, Lord and Lady Spencer, Freddie Starr, Jackie Stewart, and Auberon Waugh.

Demon Barber : Barber barbecues Eddie Izzard, Alan Clark, Damien Hirst, Julie Burchill, Jarvis Cocker, Lord Rees-Mogg, David Hockney, Julian Clary, Kelvin MacKenzie, Neil Tennant, Major Ronald Ferguson, Gilbert and George, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Calvin Klein, Rachel Whiteread, Joseph Heller, Rupert Everett, Gerry Adams, Lord Rothermere, Alexander McQueen, Boy George, Micheal Winner, Jonathan Ross, Felicity Kendal, Redmond O’Hanlon, Stephen Fry, Lord Deedes, Dale Winton, Harriet Harman, and Richard E Grant. [This is the order of the book’s Contents.]

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