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Palimpsest: A Memoir [Hardcover]

Gore Vidal
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Sep 1995
Published to celebrate his 70th birthday, the memoirs of the American writer, from his childhood as the grandson of a blind southern senator, through to the establishment of his literary career in 1964.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Andre Deutsch Ltd; First Edition edition (28 Sep 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0233988912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0233988917
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.4 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 695,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


An engrossing and beguiling read. Admirably candid, refreshingly indiscreet, intelligent and full of wit, it is also startlingly original...And unequivocal triumph. (William Boyd, DAILY TELEGRAPH BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

He does not narrate his life: he revies it. The result is something quite novel and wonderfully appealing, a critical biography of himself...Vidal's life might even be his greatest work. (INDEPENDENT)

Wonderfully entertaining. You want the high-level political gossip? You get it here... it offers all the zing of a Dry Martini without the danger of getting drunk. (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

PALIMPSEST is a tremendous read, down and dirty from start to finish. It is also a proud and serious and truthful book... (SUNDAY TIMES) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Gore Vidal is one of the greatest living American novelists and essayists. He has written numerous Hollywood screenplays, including BEN HUR, and ran as a Democratic candidate for Congress. He appeared with Tim Robbins in the film BOB ROBERTS. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where can I buy volume 2? 30 Jun 2004
By Elizabeth Taylor VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is simply my favourite book of the year. I originally bought it was I saw Gore Vidal on television and I hadn't read one of his books for a while. I must say that I was very suprised after 50 pages as I had expected gossip and human interest but not the real beauty of the novel which is both a description of lost love from a great writer as well as insight into a mind/life of a real intellect. As stated by other reviewers this is not a typical biography in that we meet the young child and have an overview of a life, its more a review of bits and pieces of his life, his musings on his actions and the meaning of his life and of course a chance to meet a lot of famous people. Gore is also not afraid to share the gruesome details such as his step-fathers inability to ''get it up'' or his relationship with his mother which as you can imagine from the fact that he used to vomit when she came into the room at the age of 11 was not a great success. Then of course our leading man also mixed with some of the intellectural, policial and cultural icons of a now past century so it can also be read from a historical perspective as an insight into a close but already lost period of time. I felt quite jealous of him swaning around Europe after the war with Tennesse Williams, or meeting the duke and duchess of windsor or partying around in the world pre-Aids or just hanging out with the kennedys all of whom he describes on a personal rather than political level, and I haven't even mentioned the showbiz cast including Paul Newman &r Marlo Brando. I was also pleasantly suprised to know that although he is an undouted top notch whit and racontour (a dying art) he also shares the same longings as the rest of us and is able to express those in a language which is beyond most of our capabilites. Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vidal on Vidal. He approves. It's a hit. 1 Jun 2001
Having exhausted essays, novels, film and TV scripts, plays and short stories, Vidal finally moves in on autobiography (sorry, 'memoir'). As might be expected he's funny, cruel, bitchy, true and relentlessly entertaining. In recounting the story of the first great (unrequited) love of his life, killed in action in WW2, he's also unexpectedly moving. An excellent book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
If you have read Vidal's essays carefully, you will see many of the same stories recounted here, at least the literary ones. Unfortunately, at least for me, they simply don't have the same comic and bitter vivacity of his earlier work, as they are toned down and moderated somewhat. I felt that either his energy or his drinking - which he alludes to and which was new to me - has dulled his sensibilities.

What is new are some of his stories and a more systematic treatment of the man you get so many fleeting glimpses of in his brilliant essays. Perhaps there isn't quite enough to him to make this all that worthwhile. Afterall, he has not had a great emotional life: he loved a boy when he was 18, who was killed in WWII, and he never really loved again. Instead, what he seeks is simple sex with no real involvement, and I don't think he understands what he is missing. That certainly explains the absence of love in so many of his novels, or its continual betrayal in the search for power and glory.

Nonetheless, Vidal has had a charmed career, and he built it by himself - "I worked" as he says, in contrast to his step sisters whom he says were 19C women looking for men to support them. There is less of his famed meanness and combativeness in this memoire and more of a man looking back with pride and some forgiveness. His essays are more fun, but perhaps less mature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique Life 28 Oct 2007
Few people have had the experience that Gore Vidal has been fortunate to know and we are never likely to read of anything like it again. His father was FDR's Secretary of Air and from an early age GV was rubbing shoulders with the famous and the talented. He has a lovely easy style of writing and is never conceited nor condescending. He can give a unique insight into most of the significant American events of the second half of the awful 20th century, and can reveal what famous people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, the Kennedys, were like -- as people. And this also includes member of the Royal Family, some of whom he new as friends. It can be deliciously gossipy in places, but that only makes it all the more delightful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glittering memories 24 Mar 2011
Palimpsest is an interesting, contradictory, opinionated (how could it not be so with such a writer?) and sometimes outright puzzling memoir. Although it has been a personal favourite for a long time, in recently re-reading it, I found there were more questions raised than answered at Gore Vidal's memories of early to mid-life years.

For someone completely new to Gore Vidal's writing I would hesitate to recommend this as the starting point. There is personal detail galore of Mr Vidal's life, views and portraits of people from every arena that he moved in, but, there are only a few details and mostly passing mention of what made him great - his own writing. The novels of that time do appear. Particular focus falls on the work that garnered the greatest attention in those years, The City and the Pillar, and there is the reminiscence of how he started his non-fiction, essayist, career. Just as quickly as they are mentioned the memories glide off into the places and the people of that time. If you have never read a word of Vidal's work before then I'd suggest starting out with Julian and United States: Essays 1952-1992 for his novel and essay writing respectively.

For a dedicated fan there is plenty to delight in. The famous personages, the well-connected names, the disagreements, feuds, passing attachments and friends move across the pages in their successes and failures. There is the wonderful timing of delivery which creates the scene - such as the instance of recounting the public humiliation that Christopher Isherwood suffered at the hands of E.M Forster at a London party. This is also one of the times where contradiction becomes apparent.
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