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Redeeming Features: A Memoir (deckle edge)
Redeeming Features: A Memoir (deckle edge)
by Nicholas Haslam
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.62

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scintillating, but....., 6 Jan. 2010
Nicky Haslam has been a social fixture on the transatlantic scene for decades. He's legendary for all sorts of reasons, and obviously either has an eidetic memory or keeps detailed journals stretching back decades on every party he's attended, every house he's entered, and every person he's ever met or slept with. He is, as someone said, a man who would attend a lighted candle, needless to say a party. Perhaps due to his great good looks and his all-encompassing charm Nicky has met simply everyone interesting, starting in his early teenage years with an afternoon with Tallulah Bankhead and onward from there. Every single page of his autobiography glitters with famous names. And, surprisingly enough, the book is well-written, as well. In particular, it seems that Nicky worked especially hard on adding particularly elegiac observations on the countryside as a way of keeping his book from being simply a laundry list of the great and good, the notoriously bad, and the ugly.

Ugly is something I would also use to describe some of what Nicky writes in Redeeming Features. He deliberately inserts some of the very most disobliging things about people in society that I have ever read. In particular, Mr Haslam seems to really dislike the late Alvilde Lees-Milne, and provides certain quite repellent assertions on her personal life with the late Princess Winnareta de Polignac, nee Singer, as well as supposedly recording a catty remark regarding Winnie and Alvilde by her husband's old school chum Harold Acton. Since there are no book sales to be made from mentioning someone so long dead (1994) and comparatively unfamous one can only assume that Nicky was settling an old score. It's a good thing that one cannot libel the dead, because undoubtedly Nicky and his publisher would have ended up in court over just those two stories. Perhaps the fact that James Lees-Milne, the UK's greatest 20th century diarist, never mentioned Nicky once in all the 12 volumes of his published diaries pricked Mr Haslam's notable amour-propre.

However, there are many claims Nicky makes in Redeeming Features which have been denied or doubted by others, which undoubtedly have boosted sales. Like, for example, Nicky's assertion that he slept with Tony Armstrong-Jones (which Lord Snowdon denies). Or, as merely one more note... Nicky's suggestion that the famed (a word Nicky loves) astrologer Patric Walker killed his mentor the other celebrity stargazer Celeste by pushing her down a flight of stairs in 1974. While Nicky says he and Patric were great chums, why does Mr. H persistently spell Patric's name as ending with a 'k', when PW notoriously hated his trademark name (for this is what it was) wrongly spelled. Too annoy Patric in the other world?

All in all, from even a cursory examination of Redeeming Features, one can only conclude that this is the record of a charmed life. After reading the whole thing one wonders, however, "but has all this rushing about, partying, making love, chattering, photographing and designing interiors really meant something that's at all important?" No one I can think of has ever traded so successfully on looks, charm, and being the minor connection of an Earl. This book is certainly not boring.


The Milk of Paradise: Diaries 1993-1997
The Milk of Paradise: Diaries 1993-1997
by James Lees-Milne
Edition: Paperback

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The last. The Best, 14 Sept. 2006
It's said among horse breeders that a stallion's last get is his best. This is certainly true of James Lees-Milne. His last two diaries, "Ceaseless Turmoil" and "The Milk of Paradise" are equally as wonderful as the first two volumes of the 12 volume series, "Ancestral Voices" and "Prophesying Peace".

In the case of the latter two mentioned, J L-M is a young man, full of the hurry to experience the newness of life on offer, making his way socially in the great world of war-torn and postwar London. At the far end of his life, we are given an insight into the life of a man who has experienced all that he wanted to do and who now enjoys the life that his laurels have earned him.

This diary is astonishing. Even on the literal brink of death he was prodigiously disciplined and creative, continuing his writing and socializing up to the very end, together with setting himself little goals like visiting every church within 20 miles of Badminton.

Full of social detail, elagiac description of J L-M's beloved English countryside, and much thoughtful musing on the nature of life and death, The Milk of Paradise is a perfect setting into which to put the jewel of James Lees-Milne's life. And, of course, the gossip, as always, is delightful. Perhaps I'll leave Michael Bloch the copies I've annotated with background information, though he'd hardly require them. Some of the really juicy bits must have been left out delibrately, since they're so amusing.

Interestingly, the author himself sometimes leaves out little details (which he surely knew) which would have been particularly touching, like the fact (unmentioned in the Diary) that Caroline Beaufort was buried with her favourite childhood doll.

There is someting about J L-M that puzzle me. How could it be that throughout his diaries he should consistently -indeed, almost invariably- not know what Church vestments he is describing? Throughout them all he describes surplices as chasubles, chasubles and surplices, and a rochet as a surplice. Most puzzling from a great aesthete.
[...]
And why, I wondered, did I not review this volume a long time ago? While I have read it three times, all I can answer to the question is this: I'm unworthy to do it. It would require a greater mind than mine to do The Milk of Paradise justice. Buy it. Buy them all.


Nell Gwyn: A Biography
Nell Gwyn: A Biography
by Charles Beauclerk
Edition: Paperback

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Insights Into The 17th and 21st Centuries, 14 July 2006
This review is from: Nell Gwyn: A Biography (Paperback)
Far more than a mere recitation of dry facts, Charles Beauclerk's biography of the magical life of Nell Gwyn displays rare insight into the human condition, which insights one soon realises are acutely applicable to the here-and-now of politics, art, and the mysterious attachments of the heart. To history, Nell Gwyn was all to often misunderstoond to be merely (pg. 297) "...the stuff of legend, the girl from the slums who had won the heart of a king." In the author's hands, however, this story of love reciprocated (for such it was) is more than romance- it shines a spotlight on the theatre of politics and power which was the 17th century and still is today, in which nothing is as it seems to be, and fame provides a most convincing disguise for the truth. Beauclerk's evident erudition is worn lightly, and in this biography the richly comedic serves to illustrate the philosophical. Beautifully written, the author's style is both polished and relaxed, not unlike the later diaries of James Lees-Milne, with a limpid clarity of prose interspersed with surprising imagery, like his description of the Protestant rabble-rouser Titus Oates, (p. 279) "His mouth, we are told, was in the centre of his face, and he was built like an orc, with short bandy legs and long lifeless arms." On nearly every page one finds apt insights as, for example (p. 293) referring to the death of Nell's mother, "...like many alcoholics, old Madam Gwyn probably found a way of abandoning decent surroundings for a life of misery somewhere." The world of Charles Stuart and Nell Gwyn was a theatre, both metaphorically and literally, and whether on stage or at court everyone acted a part. In his biography of Nell, the plays of Dryden, Marvell, and others are neatly dissected by Charles Beauclerk to reveal unexpected depths of meaning. Nell was above all a comedienne, a star in her own right whose alliance with the saturnine, tricksy Charles Stuart made them the most successful double act of the 17th century. And there is, of course, the well-known account of Nell, whose coach being attacked by a mob mistaking her for the King's French (and Roman Catholic) mistress Louise de Keroualle, ordered her driver to stop, and flinging open the window (p. 307) "...cried out good-humouredly, 'Pray, good people, be civil, I am the PROTESTANT whore!' Immediately, the curses turned to cheers, caps were tossed in the air, and a path cleared for her coach. Waving and smiling, she passed on." And so, waving and smiling, Nell's brightly shining spirit has been well and truly awakened in this present biography.


Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness
Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness
by Ben Watt
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Insightful Compassionate Instructive, 19 Aug. 2005
Now I know why I'm such a fan of his music (my favourite CD is still is Tempramental). This is the autobiographial story of Ben's astonishing survival after developing Churg-Strauss syndrome, and "losing", in a sense, all but a yard of his small intestine. Though I've spent a lot of time in hospitals (only a fortnight as a patient), I now feel a bit more ready when my time comes. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's funny, unselfpitying, horrifying, gripping, contemplative, inspiring. Buy it. You will not be disappointed.


Nell Gwyn
Nell Gwyn
by Charles Beauclerk
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Written and Insightful, 29 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Nell Gwyn (Hardcover)
Far more than a mere recitation of dry facts, Charles Beauclerk's biography of the magical life of Nell Gwyn displays rare insight into the human condition, which insights one soon realises are acutely applicable to the here-and-now of politics, art, and the mysterious attachments of the heart. To history, Nell Gwyn was (pg. 297) "...the stuff of legend, the girl from the slums who had won the heart of a king." In the author's hands, however, this story of love reciprocated (for such it was) is more than romance- it shines a spotlight on the theatre of politics and power which was the 17th century and still is today, in which nothing is as it seems to be, and fame provides a most convincing disguise for the truth. Beauclerk's evident erudition is worn lightly, and in this biography the richly comedic serves to illustrate the philosophical. Beautifully written, the author's style is both polished and relaxed, not unlike the later diaries of James Lees-Milne, with a limpid clarity of prose interspersed with surprising imagery, like his description of the Protestant rabble-rouser Titus Oates, (p. 279) "His mouth, we are told, was in the centre of his face, and he was built like an orc, with short bandy legs and long lifeless arms." On nearly every page one finds apt insights as, for example (p. 293) referring to the death of Nell's mother, "...like many alcoholics, old Madam Gwyn probably found a way of abandoning decent surroundings for a life of misery somewhere." The world of Charles Stuart and Nell Gwyn was a theatre, both metaphorically and literally, and whether on stage or at court everyone acted a part. In his biography of Nell, the plays of Dryden, Marvell, and others are neatly dissected by Charles Beauclerk to reveal unexpected depths of meaning. Nell was above all a comedienne, a star in her own right whose alliance with the saturnine, tricksy Charles Stuart made them the most successful double act of the 17th century. And there is, of course, the well-known account of Nell, whose coach being attacked by a mob mistaking her for the King's French (and Roman Catholic) mistress Louise de Keroualle, ordered her driver to stop, and flinging open the window (p. 307) "...cried out good-humouredly, 'Pray, good people, be civil, I am the PROTESTANT whore!' Immediately, the curses turned to cheers, caps were tossed in the air, and a path cleared for her coach. Waving and smiling, she passed on." And so, waving and smiling, Nell's brightly shining spirit has been well and truly awakened in this present biography.


Drums of Memory: The Autobiography of Sir Stephen Hastings MC
Drums of Memory: The Autobiography of Sir Stephen Hastings MC
by Stephen Hastings
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book by a Great Man, 19 Jan. 2005
Stephen Hastings, war hero, secret agent, Member of Parliament with great political integrity, painter, sculptor, public speaker, Master of Foxhounds, raconteur, etc., etc. would be a fit subject for either a novelist like Ian Fleming, or a great biographer. His autobiography is both engaging and informative, and gives the reader a snapshot of the fantastically varied life of a renaissance man of his times (which is to say, the 1920's to 2005). Some of the very best and most controversial bits have been left out for reasons of state security, but the book does not lack bite and verve. As the late Ouida Huxley (Aldous's sister-in-law, who knew Sir Stephen well) once said of him, "They don't make men today like they did in the '30s." How true of Stephen Hastings. There are few like him today. Buy this book. It's a great read.


"Chips": The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon
"Chips": The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon
by Chips Channon
Edition: Paperback

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Horrible, 16 Oct. 2004
Like the Curzon sisters, Chips Channon was both a truly fascinating and truly horrible man. He was unforgiveably rude to servants (always a bad sign). One cannot decide whether he married his Guinness wife because he loved a) her, b) her money, or c) her social connections, but probably a lot more of b and c than a. Whatever kind of bisexual, cad, and/or prototypical social-climber he was, Chips Channon was one of the three unquestionably great diarists of the 20th century (the other two being the unequalled James Lees-Milne and the runner-up Alan Clark). Chips' diaries are acutely perceptive, witty, biting (esp his earlier entries re Winston C), snobbish in excelsis, self-involved to the point of absurdity, and utterly, utterly fascinating. One wonders whether he had a great degree of self-knowledge (unlike Lees-Milne or Clark), though. His commentary on the great people, places, and events he experienced is entrancing, and his descriptions are often sublime. It is said that his son Paul Channon is reluctant to allow an expanded version of Chips' diaries because of the quite well-deserved scandal they would engender. Since Paul's political career is over, he ought to add a few more pounds to his bank balance and put all two million words of his father's diaries into print. They would be a sensation, and a guaranteed huge seller. As it is, even the "edited" bowlderized version we now have is one of the great English diaries of all time - and written by an American! Imagine!
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The Enigmatic Edwardian: Life of Reginald, 2nd Viscount Esher
The Enigmatic Edwardian: Life of Reginald, 2nd Viscount Esher
by James Lees-Milne
Edition: Paperback

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courageously written biography by a great writer, 2 May 2004
James Lees-Milne was the 20th century's greatest diarist. Less well known today is his huge and diverse collection of other efforts, which range from novels to architectural criticism to biography. After reading "The Enigmatic Edwardian" one is somewhat surprised that a. Reggie Esher wasn't arrested and locked away forever, b. he wasn't cast into society's outer darkness, and c. that certain people in Britiain ever spoke to the author of Reggie's biography again. The "enigma" of Esher was his effortless combination of out and out (and I do mean pretty much "out") bizarre sexual interests combined with an oracular and almost unfathomable influence in society and politics. Lees-Milne, as always, writes beautifully, but one is even more in awe of his courage in choosing to write such an honest book about a man so perfectly dreadful in every way, rather than the honest, workmanlike, yet somewhat hagiographical life stories of members of great families which pass for biography in the upper strata of the UK. Mind you, James would have never written so bluntly about Deborah and Andrew Devonshire, whom he adored (well, at least his beloved Debo), and clearly did as he was told when he wrote "The Bachelor Duke" for them.


The Unexpurgated Beaton
The Unexpurgated Beaton
by Introduced by Hugo Vickers
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 22 Dec. 2003
These last diaries of Beaton's are beautiful in every way - thoughtful, introspective, often biting, comic, tragic, joyful, and sad. They are the musings of a man who has already seen and done just about everything in life and now approaches his end without regret, and little fear. Though James Lees-Milne might disagree, he nearly reaches JL-M's level in this volume.


Beaton in the Sixties: More Unexpurgated Diaries
Beaton in the Sixties: More Unexpurgated Diaries
by Introduced by Hugo Vickers
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Fun!, 22 Dec. 2003
One might think that Cecil Beaton was a bit flash, but not much more. However, this second of the Unexpurgated Diaries series shows him to be a fine writer, insightful, sensitive, self-critical, and brutally honest. Besides, it seems that every person he knew (at least those whom he didn't employ) were well worth knowing, even if they were beastly.


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