Clive James – a life in writing

As he awaits the British reviews of his translation of The Divine Comedy, Clive James talks to Robert McCrum about his illness, his marital split, TV criticism and his 'joking seriousness'

"I'm told that I'm looking quite shiny," says Clive James, putting his best face on things with a vintage display of Anglo-Australian stoicism. It's an instinctive optimism that is what you'd expect, but still it is moving.

Almost everything in the life of this great literary polymath is edged with darkness. James now dwells in a kind of internal exile: from family, from good health and from convivial literary association, even from his own native land. His circumstances in old age – James is 73 – evoke a fate that Dante might plausibly have inflicted on a junior member of the damned in one of the less exacting circles of hell.

James's health has lately been so bad that, last year, he
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