Saturday, 20 June 2009


I enjoyed reading Penelope Mortimer's autobiography (or at least the first volume), About time last night, because I always like reading people's interpretations of their childhood, although for some reason I'm never too keen on ploughing through all of the ancestral detail - I was relieved to see that Mortimer agreed with me, and stated this explicitly in the first chapter, and only started the story with her parents. It was certainly an interesting read, and I'll definitely be seeking out the second volume, About time too, in due course, as this only took us up to her first marriage, aged 21, and thus didn't detail her career or anything really regarding how she came to be a writer (the young Penelope didn't seem to be particularly preoccupied with words, although was obviously quite precocious).
However, I was disappointed. The three books I've read by Mortimer so far, Daddy's gone a-hunting, The pumpkin eater, and My friend says its bullet proof, have been fantastic literary books with twists and turns and interesting constructions. This book was just rather too linear and straightforward. It occured to me that this is frequently the case when novelists write about their early years. I was pretty disappointed when I got hold of Dorothy Whipple's autobiography recently,a nd also by Kate O'Brien's Presentation parlour. And Monica Dickens' actual autobiography, An open book, just didn't live up to her fictionalised autobiographical volumes, One pair of hands, One pair of feet, and My turn to make the tea.
Good autobiographies, that are actually genuinely good books as well as accounts of the writer's life, seem to me to be predominantly written by those who have not written novels. Some recommendations of good autobiographies would include The music room by Will Fiennes (absolutely exquisitely written), Toast by Nigel Slater (clever construction based around food and meals), and a book I keep mentioning recently, The London child in the 1870s. I also love Christopher Milne's The enchanted places, and I'm a big fan of Deric Longden's autobiography/cat books, although I don't even like cats as they make me laugh out loud.
Has anyone encountered good autobiography by a novel? I'm happy to be corrected. Or just to have recommendations of good autobiographies in general.

* My boyfriend raced through Quite Honestly by John Mortimer over the last two nights. I don't think I've seen him read so fast, he was evidently enjoying it.
* I mistakenly bought the wrong colour of tights in Primark on Thursday, and have been walking around with footballer's wife shade legs. This would be quite entertaining if it didn't look quite so bad, and if I didn't have to face Primark again to get some more in the right shade. I don't think I can face returning them (I managed to buy 16 pairs in the wrong colour!)
* Off to an 80th birthday party 3 hours drive away tomorrow, so no reading time. Might get the chance to catch up with the Archers omnibus, as I haven't listened to that for several months. Should have got an audiobook I guess, but I'm not a big fan really.

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