The misery memoir is the fad of the moment.
In 1999, Adam Nicolson published a very good book called Perch Hill: A New Life, about his escape from London and a break-down, after his divorce and a nasty mugging, to a farm in the Sussex Weald, close to Kipling’s house, Batemans.
Imagine a 77-year-old woman hanging around, say, Leicester bus station, telling people about her life. She confides her belief that she is under surveillance by the military. She maintains that she can ‘see the reality of the web of synchronicity in my life’. Showing off her special jewellery that ‘helps balance the chakras’, she reveals that ‘because I had a high metabolism and moved around a lot, I had no real [weight] problem until I was about 50’.
This is a lovely book. Judy Golding writes of her father —indeed of both her parents — with candour, humour and great insight and perception
Towards Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), the last or most recent Shah of Iran, there are two principal attitudes.
A. N. Wilson has a queasy feeling that he won’t be re-reading the works of G. K. Chesterton for a while
Hugo Vickers has already produced a well-documented and balanced biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Caradoc King, the well-known literary agent, was adopted in 1948 as a baby into a family of three girls, shortly joined by a fourth, presided over by a difficult, unhappy mother and her feebly adoring husband.
This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review.
Tom Bower’s fearsome reputation as a biographer preceded him in the Formula One paddock.
At a time when publishers seem chary of commissioning literary biographies, the conditions for writing them have never been better.
For much of the second half of his life Arthur Miller was a man whose future lay behind him.
Cancer is usually associated with death.
‘Taylor, I dreamt of your lecture last night,’ the polar explorer Captain Scott was once heard to exclaim, after sitting through a paper on icebergs by the expedition physiographer, Griffith Taylor, that had reduced even its author to the edge of catalepsy: ‘How could I live so long in the world and not know something of so fascinating a subject!’ The True Story of Titanic Thompson is not going to be everyone’s book, but for those who can get beyond the child-brides and casual killings, Kevin Cook’s biography of a great American hustler might well provoke the same sense of wonderment.
Writing an autobiographical account of middle age is a brave undertaking, necessitating a great deal of self-scrutiny at a time of life when most of us would sooner look the other way and hope for the best.
All modern biographies, one could say, are books of secrets; certainly all biographers during the past four decades have felt entitled to ferret around in their subject’s private as well as public lives.
This is an odd book: the exhaustive biography of a complete nobody. Vivian Mackerrell was the primary inspiration for the cult that is Withnail. In that, at least, he doesn’t disappoint.
Just as it will sometimes happen that a critic feels obliged to preface a review with a declaration of interest, so I should now declare a lack of interest.
The best book so far about Bob Dylan, the only one worthy of his oeuvre, is his own astonishing Chronicles, Volume One (2004), but while we wait for the next fix, Bob Dylan in America will keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay.
Paul Johnson reviews Roy Hattersley’s life of David Lloyd George
In equal measure, this book is fascinating and irritating.
Apart from his enormous wealth, the only interesting thing about Paul Raymond was his dishonesty, which was relentless and comprehensive, and always gave the game away.
Because Deborah Devonshire’s journalism has nearly always made me laugh, and because she seems like one of the jollier aunts in P. G. Wodehouse — an Aunt Dahlia, not an Aunt Agatha — I had expected her memoirs to provide chuckles on every page.
Tom Frayn, says his son Michael in this admirable memoir, trod lightly upon the earth.