"...for James Joyce 'unhappiness was like a vice'...,
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This review is from: Written Lives (Paperback)
Javier Marias never met any of the writers he covers in this sometimes fascinating and at other times inadequate book. It is a book of description and Marias readily admits to treating its subjects and sometimes their lives as if they are characters in books rather than once living writers. One can enjoy this for what it is, therefore, a sometimes speculative, but most often fairly accurate set of vignettes of the lives of writers, all of whom are dead and therefore unable to issue writs. Enlivening these pages are photographs and from these Marias tries to extract the essence of their writing lives and personal characters. He hits the mark more often than he misses, but subjective judgements do creep in according to whom Marias likes and does not like. As long as one remembers that these are partial judgements, one can put up with the odd prejudice.
The most interesting and light-hearted section is the last, where Marias speculates freely on the personalities displayed in photographs of Edgar Alan Poe, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Baudelaire, Henry James, Gide, Djuna Barnes, Yeats, and many others. The photographs are well reproduced on the page and most are interesting and suggest something of the personas represented. An interesting curiosity, this small, short and readable little book has much to recommend it. I particularly enjoyed the sections in the main book on Robert Louis Stevenson Among Criminals and Laurence Sterne At The End. However, I wasn't much moved by the way a section on Fugitive Women were all lumped together as if undeserving of separate chapters. In particular, the piece on Emily Bronte was something of a travesty. Shameful waste of an opportunity in her case.