A Stinging Delight
Faber & Faber
A Stinging Delight reads like a novel, although it is a memoir. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given that David Storey was a Booker Prize-winning novelist in addition to one of the nation’s leading playwrights and so much more.
For reasons that will be inexplicable to those not afflicted, he spent a full and varied life that should undoubtedly have been happy from early adulthood onwards gripped by levels of fear that would have made many suicidal. The candour with which he considers and explains the subject throughout is remarkable and sometimes painful to read.
The writer attributes his condition to the death of a brother whom he never knew, because it occurred six months before David was born. This text is continually addressed to that lost brother, who is given credit, if that is the right word, for the deep depression and also many of David Storey’s actions and decisions throughout a life that extended to over 80 years. Having accepted that premise, readers are then able to delve deep into the soul and brain of a chameleon who lived the proverbial cat’s nine lives to the full.
His father was a tough Wakefield miner, while mother suffered her own psychological problems. This made childhood difficult, hardly helped by a jealous elder brother whose vindictiveness towards young David continued and worsened in maturity. Despite many impediments, the future writer discovered creative impulses young, although they hardly made him popular either at home or school.
Given that money was always tight, he was forced to balance creativity with earning power, taking a number of part-time jobs, of which one of the more valuable was helping to erect marquees, an experience that eventually fed into The Contractor.
Rather than writing, it was art that fuelled the creative impulses of the teenaged Storey, who somehow managed to overcome prejudice and become a student at the Slade. Not only that but in his first year, he also shared its premier prize with the renowned Portuguese artist Paula Rego.
At that point, his earning power had increased immensely thanks to a contract with Leeds Rugby League Club. Rugby was not only physically hard but psychologically damaging and he escaped at the first opportunity, but not before learning enough to fuel both a play, The Changing Room, and his debut novel, This Sporting Life. As with so many instantly successful artists, recognition took time, effort, the receipt of many rejections and, in the meantime, some tough years teaching in deprived inner city London schools.
Storey was more fortunate when it came to love, finding Barbara when both were at school and remaining with her and subsequently their four children for life. While this book comprehensively addresses the issue of depression, we are rarely given the opportunity to share the experience from her viewpoint, which might have been instructive. Instead, the not-novel follows David Storey through a rollercoaster ride of success and failure as an artist, novelist and in so many other fields.
He may have enjoyed wonderful highs when art was rewarded with exhibitions and prizes, novels accepted and praised and plays produced on major stages across the world at a time when he became one of the leaders of his generation at the Royal Court. However, it is in the nature of most art forms that they fall out of fashion and, by the time that he reached his half-century, David Storey had become a historical footnote in almost every field that had lauded his work.
A Stinging Delight is a gripping, sad but very worthy book that shines a light on the creative mind but also the tortured private side of what many might have assumed to be a long, happy and fulfilled life.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher