I have read Graham Lord and I have read Valerie Grove. Graham set out to sensationalise -- and succeded -- by revealing Sir John Mortimer's "love child" by the actress Wendy Craig. Bravo, we're all for the truth. But that's not the full story, not the rounded picture of a complicated man who fought censorship and sexual repression as a QC, to the extent that he was even open about his affairs with other women, among them the delicious Shirley Anne Field. But he was, equally, a playwright and novelist who raised social issues of importance. A novelist in particular who gave us wonderful Rumpole, that old rogue of the Old Bailey who has delighted us in book form and on TV and will be long remembered after Sir John's indiscretions. And that is a story critics living on the other side of the world apparently ignore. Graham Lord's biography failed to dent Sir John's reputation, but no doubt he didn't want it to be the only biography of his audacious career. Hence Valerie Grove, who is honest and accurate in meticulous detail, confronts all of Sir John's contradictions and, moreover, writes not to damage but to inform, enlighten and entertain. And with significant success. What an admirable present to give all those Rumpole lovers for Christmas. And at an Amazon price too! Gerald Isaaman
This is the much anticipated "Authorized Biography" which Mortimer authorized when, for ambiguous reasons, he took a sudden disliking to the work Graham Lord was doing on a biography with which Mortimer initially cooperated. Lord's 2005 book, "The Devil's Advocate", may have had a waspish tone due to the nature of its gestation but it far surpasses this lugubrious alternative.
Grove's biography runs nearly 200 pages longer than Lord's without adding anything substantial to our knowledge of Mortimer's life and career. This is due to her inclusion of superfluous detail such as whom the children were left with before going on holiday, what schools each child attended and when, whom the children dated, what was consumed one morning at breakfast and who came to dinner that night.
The first half of the book is as much as anything the story of Mortimer's first wife Penelope and her incessant deconstruction of their incendiary marriage in her own writings. It seems this woman who had four children by three different men during her own first marriage could write about little else than her second husband's infidelities. Great stuff if you are interested in the dawn of feminist literature but into this domestic swamp John Mortimer's own literary career--surely the book's raison d'etre--intrudes only occasionally and with a paradoxically jarring tone.
It is only when he separates from Penelope, takes silk and leaves divorce and probate law for the criminal bar that Mortimer's dual careers as a barister and writer achieved critical mass. This book, by contrast, held down by the dead weight of "who cares?" details never reaches takeoff.
It must be difficult to write the biography of a living 'national treasure' - the temptation to eulogize must be enormous! But Valerie Grove does something very clever. She gives us the familiar image of John Mortimer, all Rumpolean and Rabelaisean, but all the time she subtly undercuts it so that you are aware of Mortimer's serious shortcomings. She isn't judgmental, but nor is she deceived. Her book has a truly adult understanding of how and why people behave as they do - why, for instance, Mortimer had so many love affairs! - and I really liked that. Above all, though, this biography is an incredibly good read, full of jokes and entertainment. The sheer vitality of Mortimer and his set comes across and it delights you. Highly recommended.
I have found this book very interesting.Valerie Groves writes about Johns difficult marriage to the first Penelope Mortimer in a sympathetic and unbiased manner. He was obviously a charming man, full of life and fun, and intelligent to boot.I wish I had had the chance to meet him.