Edmund gosse

Jonathan Raban’s last hurrah

Jonathan Raban, who died earlier this year, left this memoir almost complete. It tells two stories, artfully braided. One concerns the first three years of the author’s parents’ marriage, when Peter Raban was abroad serving in the second world war. He rose to become a major in the Royal Artillery, fighting in France and Belgium, evacuated from Dunkirk and proceeding to North Africa, Italy and Palestine. The second is about the author’s stroke in 2011, aged 69, his rehabilitation in a neurological ward where, on his first morning, a nurse asked ‘Do you want to go potty now?’, and the start of a new life as a hemiplegic. Raban had

Good biographers make the best companions

Strange, when your own life flatlines, the way in which other lives become suddenly more interesting. I have been retreating into biographies and memoirs as never before, scouring them for accounts of incarceration, illness, boredom, family meltdowns and sudden financial freefalls. One of the pleasures of the genre is the way in which the peaks and troughs of a lifetime are resolved by the author into a pattern as ordered as a heart rate on a hospital monitor: this year was a low point and this one a high point; this experience proved to be a turning point, while this one was no more than a blip in the chart.