*A Life of My Own*, by Claire Tomalin

This new memoir is one of my very favorite books of the year, and perhaps you recall Tomalin’s famous biographies of Hardy, Pepys, Dickens, Nelly Ternan, and Jane Austen.  This time it is her life.  The story is hard to excerpt, but here is one bit:

The day [for our lunch] came, and I realized I was feeling wobbly.  I resolved to take no notice and things started well.  We chatted and surveyed our menus.  I chose fish, and even as I ordered it I knew it was a mistake.  We talked on; I felt my stomach heave.  I knew Vidia [Naipaul] to be the most fastidious of men.  What should I do?  I rose carefully to my feet, excused myself in a calm voice and said I would be back in a moment.  I managed to make my way through it I ran as fast as my feet would carry me along the corridor to the Ladies, where I threw up with great violence.  I washed my face in cold water, combed my hair, powdered my nose, gave myself a shake and returned.

Vidia looked at me and said, “You did that very well.”

Strongly recommended.


Had nobody told her when she was young that the way to settle a wobbly tummy is to drink a double brandy and port?

Before or after purging? I’m afraid instructions have to be completely clear, when it concerns my guts.

And: “fastidious” seems like an understatement when it comes to Naipaul.

Well the rate that the sexual harassment scandal is growing, it can only be a matter of time before we hear about Naipaul and drunken English girls. Perhaps even drunken English girls who throw up.

I was told to do that when I was younger. But it always occurred to me that it is probably a bad idea to let everyone think you're a drunk who needs to throw up rather than just someone who needs to throw up.

Throwing up from drinking is a sign that you are not an experienced drinker. So, in a way, it is a good thing. Certainly not the sort of thing that makes an attractive woman all that much less attractive to the vast majority of men who find attractive women attractive, and vice versa, I would assume.

There are no bad ideas - well there are nonsensical ideas, and evil ideas, we all know that - but there are no bad ideas when the context of the ideas is whether we can hope other people understand our ideas, and understand us.

Naipaul is not a writer I have ever had a desire to read a book by - far from it - but he has lots of good quotes out there on the internet.
That being said God help us if some day the internet has a few good quotes from each and everyone of us.
Well that day will never happen I remember as a little kid looking at the tail fins on the 62 and 63 cars (the equivalent of the internet of today) and thinking these people (car designers, w.) have no idea but their days of glory will soon end. As a teenager, remembering that thought, in the 70s, I counseled a friend not to buy a used Pinto.
I am not always right, far from it, but my friend did not buy that Pinto: as Poirot once said, after teaching a friend to cook an omelette the right way (perhaps in "Cat Among the Pigeons", but maybe in some other book):
I have not lived in vain. My friend bought a Duster.

I have little time for Naipaul's fiction, but his non-fiction is outstanding. His books ought to be read by anyone who considers themselves educated.

His brother Shiva was even better.

Neither Dostoyevsky nor Tolstoy ever accurately described the way someone who does not drink much vomits from too much drink. They wrote a couple million words between the two of them. Just saying. Everything should be seen in perspective.

Pushkin, surprisingly, never once - as far as we know - wrote down the Russian word for "Arctic" (although he was, as far as I know, the greatest poet to be born as close as he was to the Arctic circle - like, a couple days walk away from the actual northern circle in its undreamed reality) or the Russian word for dandelion (taraxacum ***-- by the way, the point is, there are lots more dandelions in Russia than you would think unless you understood their good-hearted tolerance for that humble stoic little yellow flower), or even the Russian words for "Christmas lights" or, less shockingly, "luminescent seaweed". It is next to impossible to buy, anywhere but on the internet, the classic Russian work of reference which I used as the source material for this comment (Dictionary of the Language of Pushkin - Slovar' Yazkika Pushkina, which sounds more like sluv AHR yiz-ee-KA POOSH-keen-a), but I have seen a copy here and there, and no, no Arctic, no dandelion, no Christmas lights, and no luminescent seaweed. (No luminescent plankton, either - if you like big numbers, whales are big, and have lived for a long time - and never once has a whale vomited up plankton, luminescent or not. Not once in many aeons! You see, there is a system out there on the ocean, and it works).

that being said, there are a few lines from Pushkin that express what we all feel, walking down a suburban street, or even sometimes a city street in a place where there many trees, seeing Christmas lights shining through a small suburban woods (as all suburban woods are - small, that is , compared to real forests) and thinking, although the woods are small in size (the parameter of size) they are not that small on the parameter of years (those trees could be the same trees through whose winter boughs I saw Christmas lights - green, red, yellow, violet, white, blue - shining, half a century or a century ago - measure that in years! - and those trees may be the children of trees that were growing, in long forgotten Christmastimes, in winters long before there were Christmas lights, on these same suburban streets, except before they were suburban streets - trees are like that.)

He is very good on gardens and other non-fictional subjects (V.S. Naipaul). His brother (Shiva) was a friend of the wonderful classicist Wendell Clausen, I think ( I read it in some evanescent periodical long ago and have not been able to find the article again).

For the record, when I say I have no desire to read a book by somebody - if they uncover Shakespeare's long hidden memoirs, and they are too long, I will have no desire to read it, although of course I will be interested in the better excerpts. I do not like the idea of interesting people writing long books, I would prefer they write short ones, and I am prepared, with a couple of exceptions, to ignore the long ones in support of my belief.

I prefer my authors to live long lives and to write more books than any person would want to read straight through. Life is very long, in one way, and very short, in another way.

green orange blue yellow white red green orange blue yellow white red, and so on (no violet - that was a less traditional interloper from a later memory of Christmas lights). My friend owned the Duster for about 2 years, he got married 3 or 4 years after he sold it. He still sends me Christmas cards every year, even though we live in different states. Advent is a penitential season but also a season of joy, as almost anyone familiar with that wonderful treasury of poems we call the Psalms knows: I am joyful that I talked him out of buying that Pinto. The Duster cost a couple more hundred dollars, and that meant working a couple more weeks to earn that kind of money: but it was worth it. I worked hard too and did not even get a Duster out of it, back in the day. Not complaining, just stating a fact.

Papa told me so and papa knows best this promise iphone shit is worse than a shoal of deariemes.

Such is life innTrump's America...

Great excerpt.

For what it is worth, I concur that it's an excellent read, although it is notably cursory on one subject -- her marriage to the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn, who had been married to someone else just previously. Most of the principals in that drama are still living, so that was probably the best course, but given that Tomalin is a biographer it would have been interesting to know her thought process.

James Atlas's memoir The Shadow In The Garden addresses some of the same themes from the point of view of an American literary biographer, and I enjoyed it as much as Tomalin's book. (If TC has reviewed it here I am not aware of that.)

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