Last year brought good news. New York Review Books published The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays and the plump paperback took its place on what L.E. Sissman called the Constant Rereader’s Bookshelf. He returns to China, of course, as Hazlitt inevitably returns to painting and Lamb to the prose masters of the seventeenth century, but also to literary matters – Waugh, Orwell, Chesterton, Balzac and Nabokov, among others. Leys’ prose is measured and pithy, with an aphorist’s pointed concision. Here he is on, of all people, his fellow Belgian Georges Simenon: “An artist can take full responsibility only for those of his works that are mediocre or aborted—in these, alas! he can recognize himself entirely—whereas his masterpieces ought always to cause him surprise.”
Theodore Dalrymple, himself a crush growing into something more substantial for this reader, has written a fine tribute to Leys: “He combined in his person qualities that are rarely so closely associated or inextricably linked: vast erudition and scholarship, exquisite taste, complete intellectual honesty, coruscating wit and brilliant literary gifts.
“I admired Simon Leys more than any other contemporary writer. He was, in fact, my hero, in so far as I have ever had one.”