No Laughing Matter (1967)
by Angus Wilson
I checked No Laughing Matter out of the San Diego Public Library about three months ago, and it sat on the shelf until two weeks ago. No Laughing Matter is only 500 pages, but it covers so much time that it feels like twice that many. Wilson doesn't help matters by switching between six main characters (siblings) and inserting mini-plays into the more conventional narrative.
What I got out of No Laughing Matter was that there was a writing sister, a gay brother who bought and sold art, a sister who went to prison for swindling an old couple out of a painting, a brother who was a successful radical journalist and then I think one brother who was a conventional rich dude. Portions of events are memorable- the writing sister heads to the south of France for a casual affair, the writing brother goes to Moscow at the behest of the Communist party prior to World War II, the other sister gets sent to prison for her art swindle.
But large portions are so impressionistic that I found events difficult to follow. I had little to no idea what the interstitial plays were about. Wilson, who was gay for a large portion of his life where homosexuality was still a death penalty offense, writes about the same subject as authors like John Galsworthy with a decidedly more modern take on what essentially are the same sequence of events. A last portion set in the south of Portugal brings the multi-generational English family drama into the Sixties, capital S.
Ultimately, there was nothing to make No Laughing Matter anything but heavy, heavy, sledding, for English fiction completists only.