Grandeur by de­sign

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

De­spite their re­la­tion­ship, Parini at­tempts to pro­vide an ob­jec­tive bi­og­ra­phy of a great nar­cis­sist. Vi­dal’s fa­ther, an ath­lete who be­came a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, mar­ried the beau­ti­ful daugh­ter of the blind Demo­cratic sen­a­tor Thomas Gore. Hus­band and wife fought con­stantly; Vi­dal’s mother, an al­co­holic and pro­mis­cu­ous woman, coldly ig­nored her only child. A trou­bled mother in­vari­ably cre­ates a trou­bled son. Vi­dal sought so­lace in the com­pany of his adored ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther. He would read to him, and watch him in the Se­nate, learn­ing the im­por­tance of po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and re­al­is­ing that great politi­cians are gifted ac­tors.

From his early days Vi­dal was con­vinced of his des­tiny as a fa­mous writer, or even as pres­i­dent. Although he was to later boast that he came from a distin­guished lin­eage, he was born into a nouveau-riche house­hold. He was a pre­co­cious au­thor, writ­ing his first novel, Wil­li­waw, based on his World War II ser­vice as first mate on a ship, when he was 21.

It was his third novel, The City and the Pil­lar (1948), that made his name with its frank de­pic-

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