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Journalist and author who won a name as a brilliant satirist with the novel of the 1980s, The Bonfire of the Vanities
The writer Tom Wolfe, who has died aged 88, was a great dandy, both in his elaborate dress and his neon-lit prose. Although he was in his late 50s when he became a bestselling novelist, with The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), some 30 years before that he was already famous as a journalist, was indeed that extremely rare thing, the journalist as international celebrity.
It was a part Wolfe played up to, wearing showy tailor-made white suits, summer and winter, as well as fancy headgear and shirts with detachable collars. The overall impression was of a fashionplate from a bygone age. The sartorial fireworks fitted in very well with the highly eccentric literary style Wolfe used and which made such a name for him when he published The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965), which brought the world the first news of the 1960s counterculture in California.
The curious style came about by chance. In 1963, commissioned to write about custom cars for Esquire magazine, Wolfe got as far as writing hurried notes and told his editor, Byron Dobell, to give them to someone else because he could not produce the finished piece. Dobell read the notes and printed them as they were.
The peculiar style, full of exclamation marks, words elongated for special effect, and words in capital letters, gave the impression of news that was too hot for the simple declarative sentence; also that it was highly complicated to explain but that Wolfe himself knew all there was to know about it, and from the inside. As the news was from the counterculture or, later on, from the world of the New York new rich, the prose seemed to fit the passion.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us