by DESMOND GORGES
Robert Kennedy: A Memoir by Jack Newfield (Jonathan Cape 6s.) The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy by David Halberstam (Barrie & Jenkins 42s.) BOTH books am good, and both are about the same period in Bobby Kennedy's life. But, and it is a big but, neither of them tells the whole story.
Both authors were acquaintances of Bobby Kennedy's, they knew him through his campaigns. They had come to his aid because they were liberals and they felt that victory for Kennedy would be victory for their ideas.
For collectors of Kennediana, for those who want to know what Bobby Kennedy was about politically, these are great reference works. Like Margaret Laing's book Robert Kennedy they lack intimacy. Alt three journalists knew him superficially. They knew him in the office so to speak, never at home.
They are written in Americanese which sometimes results in misunderstandings by those who did not get a degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California. This is not a fault. They weren't written for the European. Margaret Laing's book did not suffer from this at least.
Robert Kennedy was very unlike his public image. When one reads of his ruthlessness in the press and then sees him at home with his wife and children, one can hardly believe it. There could not have been a happier, jollier household than that of Senator and Mrs. Robert Kennedy at Hickory Hill. No crash geejaws of the new rich disfigures the simplicity of the decoration, nothing really expensive or rare, yet nothing cheap and nasty, just a very civilised home for a large family of very individualistic and attractive children where parents were indulgent but who permitted little if anything to be got away with by their offspring.
To know a Kennedy is an incredible experience, although they do not suffer fools readily (one well-known bachelor Irish writer once questioned Bobby (father of ten children) at great length on The Pill. He banged on to such a degree that Bobby turned on him with "what is wrong with you, man? Have you a problem?").
Their replies are often glib — hut only because they are instantaneous. They have a particular warmth which one feels immediately. Their character is boundless and often anonymous. They are friendly and tenacious, and for people of such enormous wealth they are incredibly simple.
Their sympathy is immediate and more with Bobby than the late President. They are fun to be with, and they make others feel that they too are part of the mythical Camelot (the place where the Kennedy family dwells).
They work hard : they play hard. They use all of their talents to live life the fullest. They seem to have, despite the many tragedies that have afflicted them, the perfect existence. But it is their resilience perhaps more than anything else that has made enemies for them. Jealousy and a feeling that God gave them too much, often irritates even their supporters.
During Bobby Kennedy's New York Guberitaturial in 1964, I spent a day with him. Well a Kennedy day. It began early in the morning and ended well after midnight. I met him at his office at eight o'clock and drove with him to Long Island where he attended a charity gathering for a Mental Health campaign. Here he was received like royalty — the Kennedys are great supporters both morally and financially of Mental Health. Bobby has a sister who has suffered from the tragedy of a disordered mind.
There really wasn't much of Bobby Kennedy. He was thin, almost emaciated, good looking yet not really handsome, but he exuded a warm personality. He had a kind of aura about him as if he were not really of this world. He was someone I and many others who knew him or met him, will never forget.
This is the man whom neither Mr. Halberstam nor Mr. Newfield caught.