PERSONAL: Born in Scotland.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022-5299.
CAREER: Freelance author, critic, and journalist.
(Adaptor) Alice and Her Friends from Wonderland, illustrated by Jenny Thorne, Macmillan (London, England), 1986.
Peter Pan and the Only Children (sequel to J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan), illustrated by Jenny Thorne, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
The Holy Innocents: A Romance (novel), Heinemann (London, England), 1988, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.
Love and Death on Long Island (novel), Heinemann (London, England), 1990.
The Death of the Author (novel), Heinemann (London, England), 1992.
Surfing the Zeitgeist, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1997.
The Key of the Tower (novel), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1997.
A Closed Book (novel), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1999.
(With Nick Roddick) A Night at the Pictures: Ten Decades of British Film, Columbus Books (London, England), 1985.
Myths and Memories: A Dazzling Dissection of British Life and Culture, Fontana (London, England), 1986.
Hollywood's Vietnam: From "The Green Berets" to "Apocalypse Now," Scribners (New York, NY), 1981, published as Hollywood's Vietnam, Heinemann (London, England), 1989.
(Translator) François Truffaut, Correspondence, 1945-1984, edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray, foreword by Jean-Luc Godard, Noonday Press (New York, NY), 1988, published as François Truffaut: Correspondence, 1945-84, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY) 1990.
The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice: Reflections on Culture in the Nineties (essays), Fourth Estate (London, England), 1992.
Flickers: An Illustrated Celebration of One Hundred Years of Cinema, Faber & Faber, 1995.
(Translator) Georges Perec, A Void (novel), Harvill Press (London, England), 1995, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, with Marina Warner) Wonder Tales: Six French Stories of Enchantment, illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1994, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Movies, Penguin (New York, NY), 1999.
The Real Tadzio: Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" and the Boy Who Inspired It, Short Books (London, England), 2001.
(Translator, with Robert Bononno) Michel Ciment, Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to periodicals, including Film Comment and Sight and Sound.
SIDELIGHTS: Gilbert Adair is a versatile writer who has published novels, children's books, criticism, and translations. He is known for the intelligence and playfulness with which he invests his works, regardless of genre, and for the multiplicity of allusions that are likewise an inevitable aspect of his varied writings. Adair's affinity for allusions is evident in his first novel, 1989's The Holy Innocents: A Romance, which evokes Jean Cocteau's film Les Enfants terrible, but also includes references to French New Wave masters such as Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette. This novel concerns the increasingly sordid pastimes enjoyed by a pair of movie-loving twins and their American friend. Listener reviewer Gavin Millar noted that the three protagonists' relationship degenerates "from sensuality to perverse eroticism and ends in violent nightmare."
Love and Death on Long Island, Adair's next novel, constitutes another excursion into degradation. Here an aging writer, who long ago rejected much of contemporary culture, finds himself obsessed with a teen idol, whereupon he becomes immersed in homosexual pornography as a means of vicariously gratifying his rampant desires. This novel, which has been perceived by some as a spoof of Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice, was decried by New Statesman reviewer Zoe Heller as "mean and demeaning."
Adair's third novel, The Death of the Author, derives from a controversy that ensued after the death of admired critic and educator Paul de Man, who was posthumously revealed to be the author of anti-Semitic works from the Nazi era. Leopold Sfax, the novel's protagonist, attempts to obscure his past through the unlikely imposition of his own ambiguous theories on the offensive texts in question. But Sfax's efforts at deception result in further complications that, in turn, continue to jeopardize his eminent standing. Spectator reviewer John Spurling noted that "the subject and setting are inescapably Nabokovesque," and he called The Death of the Author "a highly polished piece of postmodernist marquetry."
Among Adair's other works of fiction are Alice through the Needle's Eye, which serves as a sequel to the noted children's books by Lewis Carroll. In Adair's first book for children, Carroll's world-famous heroine meets a particularly helpful kangaroo and enters a world where it literally rains cats and dogs. John Fuller, writing in the New York Times Book Review, contended that Alice through the Needle's Eye sometimes lacks "the peculiar tension that exists between the original Alice and the characters she meets." Fuller conceded, however, that the book proves Adair "strong on lexical play and well able to keep the narrative proceeding at a brisk pace."
In Peter Pan and the Only Children Adair continues the adventures of British author J. M. Barrie's beloved character. In Adair's update on Barrie's childhood classic, a child hurls herself from a ship and discovers an undersea world in which Pan and his band once again do battle with the evil Captain Hook. Humphrey Carter proclaimed in the Times Literary Supplement that Adair "has caught the Barrie manner triumphantly."
In 1999 Adair published A Closed Book, a mystery in which he again creatively borrows from other authors: in this instance from Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, wherein the main male characters engage in a power struggle, and Frederick Knott's Wait until Dark, in which one of the men has lost his eyesight. In Adair's novel Paul is blinded as a result of an accident and employs Ryder to be his "eyes" and describe the world to him. The mystery develops when the reader no longer knows if Ryder is telling Paul the truth about what Paul is not seeing. As Jonathon Romney pointed out in the Guardian, "These uncertainties set us thinking about the precarious nature of truth in fiction." Romney also noted, when discussing Adair's stylistic intentions in A Closed Book, that "The effect is to create an unsettling interference between spoken and written word." Isobel Montgomery, also reviewing the novel for the Guardian, commented, "Delightfully simple and ever so playful, Adair leads the reader through a mystery with intellectual bite."
The Real Tadzio: Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" and the Boy Who Inspired It is the title of Adair's nonfiction work based on Thomas Mann's well-known short novel Death in Venice. Tadzio is the nickname of Wladyslaw Moes, the young Polish boy on whom Mann based the object of obsession of his central character, a grown man. A central theme in Adair's reflective work is that of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. As Gregory Woods noted in the Times Literary Supplement, Adair's "conclusion is that beauty, far from being purely eternal or universal, is subject to the vagaries of social history." The Real Tadzio is also a commentary on the state of Poland under communism and the Nazi regime. A critic for the Guardian commented that Adair's work is both "charming and fascinating in equal measure."
Although Adair is perhaps best known for his fiction, he has also gained recognition as a film reviewer and has published several volumes of criticism. In the early 1980s he completed Hollywood's Vietnam: From "The Green Berets" to "Apocalypse Now," in which he decries films such as The Green Berets, The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now as distortions of the actual Vietnam conflict. American Film reviewer Jonathan Rosenbaum praised Hollywood's Vietnam for "the gracefulness of its prose style," and the critic added that "Adair is deft in charting the surface of a moral dilemma—America's involvement in Vietnam—that Hollywood has tended either to ignore . . . or distort."
Adair has published several other volumes of film criticism, among them Flickers: An Illustrated Celebration of One Hundred Years of Cinema, in which he surveys the history of cinema by concentrating on a specific film for each year. The book includes commentaries on both vaunted classics such as Battleship Potemkin and Citizen Kane as well as the cult classic Shock Corridor, the film Imitation of Life, and Jerry Lewis's screwball comedy The Nutty Professor. Peter Matthews described Flickers in his New Statesman critique as "witty and impassioned."
Social criticism by Adair includes Myths and Memories: A Dazzling Dissection of British Life and Culture and The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice: Reflections on Culture in the Nineties. In these volumes he surveys various aspects of contemporary culture and discusses film, television, and fashion while acknowledging the self-reflexive nature of his enterprise. Listener reviewer Colin McCabe deemed Myths and Memories "absolutely required reading for anybody who has to endure the dominant representations of our cultural life." In appraising the essays in The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, which focuses on the nature of parody, Robert Hutchison wrote in the Times Educational Supplement that Adair is "good on—among other things—the genius of [Berthold Brecht, the reasons why the concentration camp should never be fictionalized in film, and the need for 'a sense of passionate partisanship' in literary criticism."
In 1990 Adair translated French filmmaker François Truffaut's Correspondence, 1945-1984, edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray. Dennis Potter wrote of the work in the New York Times Book Review that "The sweet perils of self-invention are almost as tenderly on display in this hefty, well-annotated collection . . . as they are in the shining ironies of [Truffaut's] much-loved films." Potter added that the letters of the late filmmaker are "capably translated" by Adair. Adair also provided the translation of Georges Perec's A Void, a novel that does not contain any words featuring the letter "e." Sarah A. Smith noted in New Statesman that "Adair's translation is markedly similar to that of his own, rather knowing fiction" and lauded the translation as an achievement as "equally extraordinary" as Perec's French-language original.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Film, April 1982, pp. 71-72.
Boston Herald, January 18, 1999, Paul Sherman, "Love and Death Is Original, Warm, Funny," p. 38.
Contemporary Review, January, 1993, pp. 48-50.
Economist, August 15, 1981, p. 73.
Guardian, September 29, 1999, Jonathan Romney, review of A Closed Book, p. 22; October 21, 2000, Isobel Montgomery, review of A Closed Book, p. 11; January 12, 2002, review of The Real Tadzio, p. 9.
Library Journal, August, 2001, p. 110.
Listener, October 2, 1986, pp. 24-25; November 19, 1987, pp. 39-40; October 13, 1988, p. 31.
London Review of Books, September 13, 1990, pp. 18-19; September 10, 1992, p. 22.
New Statesman and Society, July 6, 1990, p. 40; June 2, 1992, pp. 42-43; October 14, 1994, pp. 46-47; October 25, 1999, Vicky Hutchings, review of A Closed Book, p. 57.
New Yorker, May 13, 1985, p. 147.
New York Review of Books, October 11, 1990, pp. 14-16.
New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1985, p. 42; May 27, 1990, pp. 1, 25; March 12, 1995, p. 3.
Observer (London, England), September 13, 1992, p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, December 19, 1994, p. 45.
Spectator, December 10, 1988, p. 26; August 29, 1992, p. 30; December 8, 2001, Francis King, review of The Real Tadzio, p. 58.
Sunday Times (London, England), November 22, 1998, p. 2; December 9, 2001, Paul Bailey, "Mann's Love Lost," p. 41.
Times (London, England), November 11, 1999, Michael Arditti, "Toward a Greater Evil," p. 48.
Times Educational Supplement, September 18, 1992, p. 9.
Times Literary Supplement, December 4, 1981, p. 1422; January 4, 1985, p. 18; November 20, 1987, p. 1282; September 9, 1988; August 21, 1992, p. 18; December 4, 1992, p. 13; December 18, 1992, pp. 3-4.
Washington Post Book World, August 20, 1995, p. 12.*