Noel Coward by Clive Fisher (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £16.50) Beatrice Wallace CLIVE Fisher, for many years the Catholic Herald's film critic, has penned an intelligent, unblinking portrait of the man who for decades entertained theatre audiences and salon habitues alike.
Mr Fisher's Noel Coward is a tragicomic scribbler and socialite, a man who, armed with his mastery of subtly caustic wit, and prodded by a mother whose ambition was second only to his own. rose from nothing to hobnob
with royalty. By the time of his death in 1964, the playwright who wrote "Private Lives". "Hayfever" and "Blithe Spirit" had become the personification of that brittle, champagne-bubbly era that spanned the •20s and '30s. And yet. This same social and literary lion resolutely hid, as Mr Fisher's sensitive portrayal reveals, behind a mask as fixed as those used in Japanese Kabuki theatre.
Despite his bon mots and glamorous companions. the man who starred in Noel Coward's life emerges as terrifyingly vulnerable, a lonely outsider whose hunger for attention and affection was never satisfied.
An elegant, unsettling book.