Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me by Deirdre Bair

Reviewed by
June–July 2020, no. 422
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Ronan McDonald reviews 'Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me' by Deirdre Bair

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me

by Deirdre Bair

Atlantic Books, $29.99 pb, 352 pp

Buy this book

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me by Deirdre Bair

Reviewed by
June–July 2020, no. 422

July 1970. A graduate student in English at Columbia University was feeling bogged down in her PhD topic. She was only a year or so in and reckoned that there was still time for her to make a switch from medieval sermons to a modern author. She wrote on index cards the names of numerous writers she liked, including James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. She then arranged them alphabetically. Beckett came out on top (presumably Auden didn’t make the cut). ‘That was how my life in biography began,’ explains Deirdre Bair, who died in April 2020, in time, fortuitously, to see this book published late last year.

Bair, the mother of two young children, had returned to college after working for a decade as a journalist and reporter. The skills she had developed in hunting for stories and sources inclined her towards life writing, against the temper of the times in which ‘literary theory’ was surging. Her thesis dwelt on Beckett’s life as well as his work. Nearing the conclusion, she began contemplating a biography of the famously reclusive writer. She wrote to him: to her amazement, he wrote back, offering to see her. ‘So you are the one who is going to reveal me for the charlatan that I am,’ was his opening gambit when they met in Paris in 1971.

Ronan McDonald reviews 'Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me' by Deirdre Bair

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and me

by Deirdre Bair

Atlantic Books, $29.99 pb, 352 pp

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comment (1)

  • Ronan McDonald's review of Parisian Lives sent me back to Deirdre Bair's biography of Samuel Beckett, which I read more than twenty years ago and was hugely impressed with. As soon as I opened the book again, I remembered how engrossing it had been. A day later I am still reading it and will continue reading till I finish it. I met Deidre in Adelaide some years ago and we talked about Beckett. When she came out of the door of the place where we were staying and joined the group waiting for her - all women except for me - she apologised for keeping us waiting. 'I'm sorry I'm late,' she said, managing to sound and to look very grand, indeed making an entrance rather than being late. I responded, 'And then you overdressed.' At this she took my arm and we went off talking at once about books.
    Posted by Alex Miller
    08 June 2020

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