Along Came a Spider
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 1st August, 2015
Anna Paola has been a familiar figure round Soho for many years. I remember her playing the piano at Kettner’s when that restaurant was owned by my friend (and great Liberal) Peter Boizot, but much of her adult social life has also been lived in the narrow grid of streets along and around Old Compton Street. Like many Sohoites, she has moved joltingly between jobs — ranging from teaching at Gordonstoun school in Scotland (when Prince Charles was a pupil) to performing in some of the more louche gentlemen’s clubs in Mayfair — just as she moved between a variety of different rented rooms and flats in London and even a series of relationships with older men. Truly a bohemian life, with highs and lows, ecstasy and depression, all of which she lays bare in her memoir Along Came a Spider (Avanti Books, £8.99), which is as much a stream of consciousness as a stream of memories, across more than 50 very short chapters. Anna was both talented and beautiful, a composer as well as a performer, which guaranteed that she would get back on her feet each time she took a tumble, and tumble she often did, whether as a result of the death of someone dear to her, or of a failed relationship. She is candid about the mood swings and the oft-faltering confidence, which at one point led her to turning down what could have been her great break in the United States. Her friend and fellow Bach aficionado, the comedian and pianist Dudley Moore, did go West before succumbing to progressive supranuclear palsy. Rather a lot of people in her book similarly meet awful ends in hospitals. Yet defiantly the author affirms hope and life at the end. She puts much of her instability down to having been given away for fostering as an illegitimate baby, so that all her life she has to an extent been searching for herself. Her prose is guileless, raw and immediate, sometimes resembling how I imagine she must have spoken during therapy sessions. It’s just a pity that this nicely presented paperback has apparently not been edited; her anarchic punctuation and the proliferation of single words or short phrases with quotation marks around them become grating, and even a wise friend could have gently pointed out that Beirut is not in Syria and doctors do not take the ‘Hypocritical Oath’.