Biography and Memoirs

‘I kept thinking: if his face looks like this, what must his balls look like?’ David Hockney’s assessment of the craggy countenance of W.H. Auden is clipped and convenient, but I suspect Auden would have been far more interesting on the subject of sitting for Hockney. Given the concentration and quality of the encounters between English portrait painters or sculptors and their subjects, it is slightly odd that more writers have not published accounts of the experience of sitting for their portrait.

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Felicity Plunkett reviews 'The Romantic' by Kate Holden

Felicity Plunkett
Tuesday, 15 November 2011

For a book featuring a lot of sex, The Romantic – whose title could be ironic, acerbic, or hopeful – disgust is not the most obvious predominant motif readers might expect...

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Paul Morgan on Raimond Gaita's 'After Romulus'

Paul Morgan
Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The business of growing up starts with distancing ourselves from our parents. It ends (as far as it ever ends) with drawing them close again. Rather than disappointing giants, we recognise them at last as fallible, unique human beings. We recognise them in ourselves, and so they become real to us.

The tumultuous early life of Raimond Gaita and his parents is ...

In her short memoir of Susan Sontag, novelist Sigrid Nunez claims that she did not read the obituaries and commentaries after her death in 2004, and that she was never much interested in what other people said about Sontag. If it’s true, she is indeed a rara avis. Susan Sontag, in death as in life, generates enormous interest and a growing literature, one that pro ...

Literary biography is an often derided genre. Writers, in particular, tend to be suspicious, if not openly hostile, toward what they are apt to regard as a secondary or parasitic form. And there are valid reasons for this wariness. The assumption behind a biography is, reasonably enough, that the writer’s life informs the work, but establishing the precise relevan ...

Tim Bonyhady: Good Living Street

Evelyn Juers
Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Leaving Vienna, city of windows

Evelyn Juers

 

GOOD LIVING STREET: THE FORTUNES OF MY VIENNESE FAMILY
by Tim Bonyhady
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 464 pp, 9781742371467

 

Would it be indulgent to invoke Leonard Cohen? It’s just that his song ‘Take Th ...

Michael Holroyd: A Book of Secrets

Ian Britain
Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Grand follies

Ian Britain

 

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
by Michael Holroyd
Chatto & Windus, $46.95 hb, 270 pp, 9780701185343

 

In a review on quite another subject for ABR’s recent summer issue (‘Barry by ...

The biographer’s contract

Frances Spalding
Friday, 06 May 2011

The business of authoring another person’s life is problematic and potentially dangerous. You need to be brave to write biography. It is not just the labour involved, or the obsessive research involving more travel and hours of work than can be deemed cost-effective; it also requires a self-exposing judiciousness. At every stage in the procedure decisions are made ...

Shirley Walker reviews 'Nine Lives'

Shirley Walker
Wednesday, 04 May 2011

Susan Sheridan’s Nine Lives, a ‘group biography’, analyses the life stories and literary achievements of nine Australian women writers. The purpose, according to Sheridan, is not only to rediscover the life story of each, but also, by exploring their publishing and aesthetic context, to create a ‘fresh configuration’ of our literary history.

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Morag Fraser reviews 'A Widow's Story'

Morag Fraser
Tuesday, 26 April 2011

On 18 February 2008, Joyce Carol Oates’s husband, Raymond J. Smith, died unexpectedly of cardiopulmonary arrest. Smith was eminent in his own field as editor of the Ontario Review, but quietly eminent. Now he has become famous, a household name in international literary circles – as his widow’s spouse. It is an odd state of being, or non-being. But th ...