Enthusiastically endorsed by the likes of Graham Greene, Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, and John Betjeman (who hailed him as a genius), Julian  Maclaren-Ross was one of the leading writers of the 1940s. His world is dingy, down-at-heel; a world of smoke-veiled bars, rented lodgings, blacked-out streets, and wartime army garrisons, first-hand experience lending his work a frisson of authenticity. Whether narrated in the breathless, slangy voice of an uneducated soldier, or the clipped cadences of a colonial expat’, whether set on the French Riviera or wartime England, his stories are imprinted with his unmistakable literary logo, their tone casual, matter-of-fact and laconic, with characteristically caustic, humorous asides failing to conceal a melancholy that seeps through their hardboiled surfaces.

In his camel-hair coat and immaculate suit, with carnation buttonhole, silver-topped malacca cane, cigarette holder and mirrored sunglasses, Maclaren-Ross cut a dandified figure in the Soho, Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury of the forties, fifties and sixties. A gifted raconteur, he knew and writes here about some of the notable figures of the period, among them Dylan Thomas, Graham Greene, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender and John Minton. His life, often chaotic – and related unsentimentally in these memoirs – veered between the fringes of the literary establishment and homelessness.

He was much admired by writers as diverse as Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman, and his colourful personality made him the model for fictional characters, most famously X. Trapnel in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, but also in the stories of Graham Greene and Olivia Manning. More recent admirers include Harold Pinter, Lucien Freud, Iain Sinclair, Cathi Unsworth, John King, Max Décharné, Paul Willetts, Virginia Ironside, Jonathan Meades, Melvin Bragg, Keiron Pim and D.J. Taylor.

Not only is this the first time such a range of memoirs has been available in a single volume, it is the first time some of these memoirs have appeared in book form at all, and Paul Willetts's introduction offers a comprehensive account of the context in which they were written.

By far the best of Maclaren-Ross's four full-length novels, Of Love and Hunger is a louche and slangy portrait of a young man scraping a living as a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman during the run-up to the Second World War. Sometimes comical, sometimes melancholic yet always vivid, atmospheric and conversational, it is one of the most distinctive and under-rated of mid-twentieth-century novels. It deserves to be ranked alongside George Orwell's Coming Up For Air and Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square. 

The writing in this Julian Maclaren-Ross omnibus is some of his best, and shows the breadth of his ability and interests. Readers familiar with his work will know of his short stories of the wartime and London, particularly its bohemian life, and there are excellent examples of both here. In stark contrast is his highly charged novella of the south of France between the wars, Bitten by the Tarantula

Long overlooked has been Maclaren-Ross's journalism. Written mainly during the 1950s and 1960s, his literary and film criticism shows the same sharp eye as his fiction and memoir, as well as a willingness to take seriously genres not then generally regarded as worthy of proper consideration.In many ways well ahead of its time, and distinctly modern, Iain Finlayson in The Times writes of Maclaren-Ross's journalistic ‘genius’, a view this collection triumphantly confirms.Finally there are several of his sharply observed literary parodies, which led Malcolm Muggeridge to describe Maclaren-Ross as 'the greatest living parodist'. The parodies even gathered praise from their subjects, Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse, both congratulating their author. H.E. Bates sued him in the High Court, surely equally gratifying for a parodist. 

Best known as the most flamboyant and dissolute of all the bohemians who flocked to 1940s and '50s Soho, Julian Maclaren-Ross was also an inimitably stylish writer. He had the rare ability to distil the detail of everyday life into vibrant stories, a skill he refined as a raconteur in pubs and clubs, and used to great effect in his letters. These range from gleeful accounts of his love life to glowering despair at his frequent poverty. 

All give a vivid sense ofthe life of a writer living at once on the margins of society and at the heart of London's artistic and literary bohemia; always with his distinctive narrative voice, whether effervescently or bleakly humorous, unconsciously poignant, bad-tempered or desperate. 

Despite his rackety and chaotic life, his literary admirers – attracted by his beguiling, original and wryly amusing novels, memoirs, short stories andcriticism – included Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Now a new generation has recognised him as a leading twentieth-century British writer. Selected Letters presents a revealing portrait of Maclaren-Ross's bizarre and dramatic life: a stint as a door-to-door salesman, desertion from the army, imprisonment, homelessness, even a dangerous obsession with George Orwell's glamorous widow. Drawing on Maclaren-Ross's correspondence with Anthony Powell, John Lehmann and other prominent figures, this collection also offers a vivid evocation of the vanished literary world he inhabited, the world of rationing, basement drinking clubs and evenings punctuated by the melancholy wail of air-raid sirens.

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