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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The one thing that leaps out when you read about these authors is that they were all fairly disastrous individuals.", 16 July 2007
This review is from: Written Lives (Hardcover)
Illustrating this collection of anecdotes about twenty world-famous authors with startling photographs, Javier Marias, one of Spain's most respected contemporary authors, presents individual mini-bios as if they were short stories, "enhancing" some details (though all details are said to be true) and minimizing others. He brings literature's icons to life, showing them with all their warts and blemishes, and though some of these tales have the feel of secret histories, Marias writes with humor, not with bile--and in most cases with actual affection, the three exceptions being James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Yukio Mishima.

Marias's choice of authors is arbitrary. They come from all over the world and reflect a variety of time periods. Lawrence Sterne exists side-by-side with Yukio Mishima and Emily Bronte, Joseph Conrad with William Faulkner and Isak Dinesen, Malcolm Lowry with Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde. Here one finds memorable tidbits such as the following from among hundreds of such tidbits:

William Faulkner was fired from working at the University of Mississippi post office because he hated having his reading interrupted: "He told his family that he was not prepared to keep getting up to wait on people at the window and having to be beholden to any SOB who had two cents to buy a stamp." James Joyce was so egotistical that he once asked, "Don't you think there is a certain resemblance between the Mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do?"

Henry James's "linguistic punctiliousness" was so great that "the simplest question addressed to a servant would take a minimum of three minutes to formulate." Robert Louis Stevenson was fascinated by evil, associating with Chantrelle, a multiple murderer, whom he considered a friend. Ivan Turgenev's grandmother murdered an annoying young servant, his mother drowned all the babies of the serfs on their estate so that their parents would not neglect their duties. Malcolm Lowry, described as "drunk, drunk, drunk," once told about seeing elephants in the street, a hallucination so ridiculous that his friends would not believe him, even when presented with the steaming evidence on the sidewalk.

A fascinating accumulation of oddities about revered authors, this collection is vibrant in its depictions of their personalities and perceptive in its assessments of how these authors came to be the people they were. Lovers of literary fiction and students of world literature will be delighted by this treasure trove of lesser known facts about the Great Ones. Mary Whipple
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Reviewer

Mary Whipple
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: New England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 117