for an atheist
In Character by John Mortimer (Allen Lane, £6.95).
THE ATHEIST John Mortimer is as obsessed with religion as an AA member with drink.
Mortimer is seven weeks younger than Cardinal Hume (being now 60) as he discovered when he went to interview him for the Sunclay Times. The other interviews in this collection of 27 have the same origin.
Cardinal Hume said: "If death were the end, then life's absurd." To which Mortimer replied: "Well, exactly." One of his most closely held beliefs, he claims, is just that — life is absurd.
Graham Greene, with whom an interview is included in this book, is one of his great heroes. If he were a believer, he has told me, that is the sort of belief he would have. Not very cheerful, that.
I don't think Mr Mortimer is a very happy man. Very engaging, very witty, very thoughtful, but not happy.
The questions he asks people (Mr Bean, Malcolm Muggeridge, Michael Foot, and so on) tend to be about God, parents, upbringing and ideas. With David Hockney and Sir John Gielgud the technique varies considerably. Sir John is such a good talker (he tells a terribly runny and terribly rude story) and Hockney appeals to Mortimer's aesthetic tastes so much that they are let off more lightly.
I suppose the reason Mortimer is one of the best interviewers is that he refuses to adopt the crawling Parkie-Harty technique, but retains sufficient charm to elicit a response to his probing. The one occasion it didn't work was with Mick Jagger. Perhaps one had indigestion.
A question of the baby
Our New Baby by Marlee and Benny Alex (Lion Books, £2. 95).
OUR NEW BABY is an absolute must for the Christian family bookshelf. Whether parents plan to have several children or not, the question of "where do babies come from?" is bound to crop up one day.
This book is a real life account of a new baby coming to a family. The photographs are delightful, and the text is clear, concise and sensitively written. It does not skirt round any issues, but it is not embarrassing either.