Sixties mystic

28 May 2011
Memoirs of a Dervish Robert Irwin

Profile, pp.239, 14.99

The misery memoir is the fad of the moment. We seem to have a limitless desire to delve into other people’s hardships. Robert Irwin has gladly shown the way to… Read more


The Russian connection

7 May 2011
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and Those Who Read Them Elif Batuman

Granta, pp.296, 16.99

It’s impossible not to warm to the author of this book, a perky Turkish-American woman with a fascination with Russian literature and an irresistible comic touch. It’s impossible not to… Read more


The choppy sea of family life

7 May 2011
The Children of Lovers Judy Golding

Faber, pp.256, 16.99

This is a lovely book. Judy Golding writes of her father —indeed of both her parents — with candour, humour and great insight and perception This is a lovely book.… Read more


Pet obsession

16 April 2011
My Dog Tulip J. R. Ackerley, with an introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

New York Review of Books, pp.190, 8.99

I declare two interests. I own a dog, Lily, and I admire the New York Review of Books. What could go wrong? Especially because, according to the enthusiastic introduction, back… Read more


The wisdom of youth

9 April 2011
People Who Say Goodbye P.Y. Betts

Slightly Foxed, pp.312, 15

‘You must write it all down’ is the age-old plea to elderly relatives about their childhood memories. ‘You must write it all down’ is the age-old plea to elderly relatives… Read more


Hand over fist

26 February 2011
Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril King Abdullah II of Jordan

Allen Lane, pp.368, 25

When King Abdullah first started work on this political memoir two years ago, he can hardly have imagined how different the Middle East would look by the time of its… Read more


Land of lost content

11 September 2010
My Father’s Fortune Michael Frayn

Faber, pp.255, 16.99

Tom Frayn, says his son Michael in this admirable memoir, trod lightly upon the earth. He belonged to a class and a generation who didn’t think their story mattered. Even… Read more


Out of the woods

21 August 2010
The Green Snake Margarita Woloschin

Floris Books, pp.431, 20

The Russian Countess Edith Sollohub

Impress Books, pp.320, 18.99

These two memoirs by ladies born into the Russian elite in the 1880s have both had to wait many decades before publication in English. The Green Snake, however, has gone… Read more


Fighting spirit

20 January 2010
On the Spartacus Road Peter Stothard

HarperPress, pp.353, 18.99

The metaphors that come to us when we are sick, trapped in the no-man’s land bet- ween consciousness and oblivion, are often the most vivid of which our minds are… Read more

His island story

4 November 2009
The Man-eater of Punanai Christopher Ondaatje

Rare Books & Berry, pp.237, 9.95

‘If you don’t come to terms with the ghost of your father, it will never let you be your own man.’ Here Christopher Ondaatje (brother of novelist Michael) combines his… Read more

The one that got away

14 October 2009
Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries, 1980-1988 Michael Palin

Weidenfeld, pp.621, 20

Michael Palin is the meekest, mildest and nicest of the Pythons. The latest chunk of his diaries traces his attempt during the 1980s to break away from his wacky colleagues… Read more

Making the running

16 September 2009
My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times Harold Evans

Little Brown, pp.528, 25

Journalists’ memoirs tend to be as transitory as the great stories they so lovingly recall. Journalists’ memoirs tend to be as transitory as the great stories they so lovingly recall.… Read more

Fiery genius

16 September 2009
John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art Frances Spalding

Oxford University Press, pp.598, 25

In July 1967, a young artist named John Nankivell, living in Wantage, plucked up the courage to knock on John Betjeman’s front door, in the same town, to show the… Read more

Gut instincts

9 September 2009
Cleaving Julie Powell

Penguin, pp.294, 12.99

Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia, a book (and now a film) in which she described her attempts to cook a huge number of recipes by the cookery writer Julia… Read more

House of memories

2 September 2009

Selina Hastings recalls her visit in 1989 to Lady Beauchamp, mistress of Madresfield Madresfield: the name is now almost as lustrous with literary association as Little Gidding or Adlestrop. To… Read more

Puzzling out the past

7 April 2009
The Pattern in the Carpet Margaret Drabble

Atlantic, pp.349, 18.99

How do you write an autobiography without referring to almost anyone else in your life? In The Pattern in the Carpet, Margaret Drabble has done just that, using her interest… Read more


The world of big brother

1 April 2009
The Music Room William Fiennes

Picador, pp.215, 14.99

If the past is a foreign country, who governs it? Who has the right, particularly in dealing with his parents and siblings, to patent very private memories, and sell them… Read more

Beyond the wildest dreams

12 December 2008
Collections of Nothing William Davies King

University of Chicago Press, pp.163, 10.50

Collections of Nothing, by William Davies King At the start of this memoir, the author, a college professor in California, describes a scene from his divorce. He walks into the… Read more

Memoirs of the Great War

10 December 2008
Survivors of a Kind Brian Bond

Continuum, pp.216, 25.00

Survivors of a Kind, by Brian Bond In Survivors of a Kind, Brian Bond, one of our most distinguished modern military historians, has written an absorbing and affectionate study of… Read more

Living the legend

3 December 2008
My Judy Garland Life Susie Boyt

Virago, pp.309, 15.99

My Judy Garland Life, by Susie Boyt The story of Judy Garland is a magnificent example of the truth that life imitates art. Things would surely have been different had… Read more

The view from the middle lane

3 December 2008
The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics - Off the Record Hugo Young, edited by Ion Trewin

Allen Lane, pp.834, 30

The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics — Off the Record, by Hugo Young, edited by Ion Trewin The late Hugo Young was the political columnist of the… Read more