America was not a dead zone during this time. The Brat Pack (Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz, Bret Easton Ellis) criss-crossed Lower Manhattan after midnight. The Kmart Realists (Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Joy Williams, Richard Ford) prowled, in their minimalist fiction, laundromats and cheap hotels.
Prestige novels, the homework of literate adults, included Don DeLillo’s “White Noise”, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, William Kennedy’s “Ironweed” and John Updike’s “Rabbit is Rich”.
Walsh makes London, however, the place to be. The stage was smaller; everything was burning more fiercely; other angels swarmed over the head of a pin.
“Circus of Dreams” is both memory and history. Walsh grew up in South London. Her father was a general practitioner and her mother a nurse. Neither of them was a big reader, but their son was. He earned a degree in literature from Oxford and held numerous jobs in journalism before becoming literary editor of The Evening Standard and then, in his mid-thirties, of the Sunday Times of London.
At the Sunday Times, his assistant was Nigella Lawson, then in her twenties. She was, to Walsh, terrifically witty, cultured, and socially connected.
One day Walsh needed computer help and Lawson offered to help. He continued to fidget. Frustrated, she dropped to her knees and did the needful. Walsh struggled to realize, he wrote, that “one of the great beauties of the 20th century had just settled on my sitting person”.