This book came into my hands as a used book because I am a writer who happens to be familiar with most of the writers whose houses are photographed here. In particular, I am a long-time fan of Marguerite Duras, Karen Blixen, W.B. Yeats, and Marguerite Yourcenar... all major literary voices of the twentieth century. Seeing these tranquil photographs of their homes is like watching a pleasant film. Indeed, the strength of the book is its visual appeal, thanks to the work of Erica Lennard.
Unfortunately, the writer is the weak link in the chain in this book that masquerades as a book that might tell you something about writers. The "Prologue by Marguerite Duras" is, in fact, a poorly translated passage from her book "Ecrire" that was published in 1993. It is NOT a prologue written for this book, as the cover and title page imply. Worse yet is the horrendous mistranslation of the title of what many believe to be the best novel ever written by Duras: "Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein." Though there is room to debate the best translation of "ravissement" (rapture, rape, ravishing), the truly unbelievable mistake has to do with the name, Lol V. Stein, the woman this book is about whose complete name is "Lola Valerie Stein."
Premoli-Droulers makes it clear that not only has she never read this novel, she has never looked at it (as in... never looked at the book cover). It seems no one else bothered either, so perhaps she has soothed her soul by pointing the finger. In either case, this sloppy work results in a major error on page one where the title in the Duras "prologue" of "Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein" is translated as "The Rapture of Colonel Von Stein." The only explanation for this gross inaccuracy that I can think of is that the title was dashed off in illegible hand-writing... and Premoli-Droulers made the erroneous assumption that she could read it rather than challenge herself to confirm the title of a book she knew nothing about. She is presented on the book jacket as an employee of French VOGUE. ANY bookshop in France where French lit was sold in the 1990s could have straightened Premoli-Droulers out in two minutes. She, obviously, did not take that two minutes.
Why does this matter? Because it is a book about writers written by someone who knows too little and poses as a "journalist, author, and editor." This gives those professions a bad name and positions the book a notch above a "vintage" issue of House Beautiful. Fun to look at, but fundamentally more of a marketing project than a tribute to the people it pretends to honor. Wherever Premoli-Droulers is today, she must know this error is one that lingers. We all make mistakes, but this one could have been so easily avoided with a little more professionalism... or a genuine interest in literature and the people who create it.