I picked this book up as an introduction to West, having heard of her only by reputation and never read her work. Glendinning, who knew West, does a fine job of bringing out her genius, but does not shy away from her paranonia, vindictiveness, self-absorption and multiple other self-inflicted miseries.
While I can respect West for her courageous stand against communisim in general and Stalinism in particular (in a time when it was the epitome of gauche to be anti-communist), it seems to me that hers was, in the end, a terribly sad life, made that way her own choices and her refusal to re-evaluate those decisions later. Glendinning never records an instance in which West admitted that she was wrong or had wronged another.
Her horrible relationship with her son Antony is case in point. Should it have surprised her that a boy who was born out of wedlock in Edwardian times, and subsequently ignored and not even acknowledged by his mother, would grow up to resent her in some way? Clearly Antony took it too far, and should have gotten on with his life instead of making a career out of bashing his mother. But West never seemed able to own up to her role in making him what he became.
West seemed to live in a self-centric world, and come across in this book as curiously lacking in self-awareness. She claimed to be a free woman, yet was unable not to have a man in her life. This often led to her being terribly hurt, but she never seemed to learn the lesson. Both HG Wells and Lord Beaverbrook and evidently a host of other men used her for their sexual satisfaction, but while she lived her life with a stated low opinion of men, she never seemed to grasp why they used her or why she let them.
When she finally did marry, she experienced some happiness, but then grew bored. She never really understood the concept of unconditional love. Ultimately, it was all about her. She cheated on her husband with at least two separate affairs, then expressed hurt when it was learned that he'd done the same thing. His philandering was more extensive, but the frequency seems irrelevant when such conduct is introduced into the marriage relationship by both spouses.
As an old woman, she apparently began to question her conduct somewhat. But she repented of nothing. Is this being free? Authentic? Or foolish and prideful? Your ability to enjoy this telling of West's life will depend greatly on what you see as important in living the Good Life. I read it mostly for information, rather than inspiration, and in that aspect it is a fine biography.
The reader on these tapes did a fine job. My only complaint was when she would make an attempt at an American accent. She should not have bothered.