A Bevy of Bio’s.


I’ve been reading a lot of biographies lately and reflecting on the various means  that biographers use to bring their subjects to life.

The Paper Garden (see review below) was a very intimate and detailed account of Mary Delany AND her biographer Molly Peacock. I learnt a lot about an art form and a period of history that I knew little of beforehand. And I left it wanting to read more about Mary Delany as well as other works by Peacock.

I then read Helen Rowley’s bio on Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt.

Rowley completely takes herself out of the equation when she writes. But her style is easy and thoroughly researched.

I started the book with a rather romanticised version of the Roosevelt’s life & times and finished feeling slightly disillusioned. While I can admire and respect the good they did I’m not sure I would have enjoyed meeting them.

I left the book feeling rather appalled at the way they treated people especially the devoted folk who spent their entire lives helping the Roosevelt’s maintain their position in society & politics. I’m not sure I will be rushing to read more about the Roosevelt’s, but I do have another Rowley bio by the bed!

Next was a fictionalised retelling of Sonya Tolstoy’s life called ‘War and Peace and Sonya’ by Judith Armstrong.

The author used diaries and other relevant material to create her personal account of the Tolstoy’s marriage. I was fascinated by the insights into Tolstoy’s writing patterns but Sonya herself just annoyed me more and more as the book went on. She was a child bride who never grew up. Constantly petulant, jealous and needy. And sadly, I lost interest. I couldn’t bring myself to read any more excerpts from her diary or listen to another one of her harangues. I do admire the author though for persisting with such an annoying character!

Last but not least is Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I devoured her earlier novels in my younger days and felt I knew her story – the sad, lonely childhood, the hostile adoptive mother, her love of other women and leaving home at a young age to fend for herself. But, of course, that is only half the story. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit WAS biographical but it was also fiction and there was a LOT of stuff left out.

I’m only half way through, but it is heart-wrenching stuff. And inspiring.

Winterson’s hopefulness in the face of despair and her ability to write herself out of painful memories suggests courage and determination by the bucket load.

I’m already feeling the need to revisit some of her earlier work, but I wonder how I can justify re-reading something when I have some many new titles by my bed and computer?

Perhaps that is a topic for another day!

Bronwyn

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Independent booksellers since 1969.
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