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This article is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

The Tongue that Found its Voice: Elias Canetti John Pilling
Elias Canetti's The Torch In My Ear

The award of the Nobel Prize in 1981 has done little to dispel the indifference of the general public to the writings of Elias Canetti. Earwitness, a book of 'characters', and The Human Province, a book of aphorisms, remain unpublished in this country; neither The Voices of Marrakesh nor The Tongue Set Free have altered the consensus view that Auto-da-Fé and Crowds and Power are Canetti's masterpieces. It has begun to look as if we have tacitly agreed, on the basis of past experience, that the award of a Nobel Prize must mark the end, or signal the decline, of a worthwhile career. And the publication of The Torch In My Ear, in America at least - it is still virtually unobtainable here - seems unlikely to alter this assumption: what precedent is there for renewed commitment to a second volume of autobiography when our preference for the 'childhood-and-schooldays'-type (as ex-emplified by The Tongue Set Free) has yet to be expressed in favour of its predecessor? It can scarcely have escaped so accomplished an ironist as Canetti that it is possible to spend decades in Hampstead and still remain largely unknown to the readership of England as a whole.

There is arguably no better antidote to this depressing set of circumstances than acquiring, from abroad if necessary, a copy of The Torch In My Ear. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a recent book more likely to repay perseverance ...

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