America was not a dead zone during this period. The Brat Pack (Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz, Bret Easton Ellis) crisscrossed lower Manhattan after midnight. The Kmart realists (Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Joy Williams, Richard Ford) meandered through laundromats and cheap hotels in their minimalist fiction.
The prestigious novels, the homework for literate adults, include Don DeLillo’s “White Noise,” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” William Kennedy’s “Ironweed” and John Updike’s “Rabbit is Rich.”
However, Walsh makes London the place to have been. The stage was smaller; everything burned brighter; more angels crawled on the head of a pin.
“Circus of Dreams” is both memoir and history. Walsh grew up in South London. His father was a doctor, general practitioner and his mother a nurse. Neither of them was a great reader, but their son was. He received a degree in literature from Oxford and held many jobs in journalism before becoming literary editor of The Evening Standard and then, in his mid-thirties, The Sunday Times in London.
At The Sunday Times, his deputy was Nigella Lawson, then in his late twenties. She was, to Walsh, terrifyingly witty, well-read, and socially connected.
One day, Walsh needed computer help, and Lawson volunteered to help. He kept fluttering. Frustrated, she dropped into his lap and made the repair. Walsh struggled to process, he writes, that “one of the great beauties of the 20th century had just settled on my sedentary person.”