Readers of this review are warned that they are in the presence of an addict. Having read Anthony Powell’s monumental twelve-volume Dance to the Music of Time three times, I had been trying not to succumb to a fourth. Then along comes Hilary Spurling’s brilliant biography and will power has suffered total defeat.
Anyone who has read Spurling’s magisterial ‘lives’ of, among others, Henri Matisse and Ivy Compton-Burnett (each in two volumes), will be expecting that irresistible combination of immaculately detailed research and eloquent storytelling. There are pages of notes at the back giving sources for everything, but Spurling has not peppered the chapters with those little numbers that can get in the way of narrative fluency. Since, like Powell in his great work, she deals with a huge cast, it is important for us to know where she got her information about them, but equally important for them to establish and retain their presences.