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A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers Hardcover – August 2, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374115583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374115586
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #636,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Intoxicating . . . Burst[s] with the tremendous generosity of its author . . . From the first page A Book of Secrets casts the spell of a time long gone, of loves endured and lost, expectations dashed on the rocks of reality, of inner desires forever stilled, casting their shadows into history. It is written with the kind of elegance, ease and simplicity possible only from a master craftsman who has flown far beyond any learning curve and is relishing his free fall. [Holroyd] carries us as if on a magic carpet from one character to the next, and one time period to the next, with consummate grace. Holroyd is a kind of Fred Astaire on the page, his many steps becoming one grand, profound design . . . [H]is heart and humor bounce in vibrant rays off every hot-blooded, lovelorn, crazy, jealous and joyous woman—and what enlightened being would have any woman be otherwise?—in his book . . . A Book of Secrets is a book of magic, a sleight of hand by a master conjurer singing his swan song, sweetly, softly, with piercing wit and overwhelming compassion, his poetry in prose evoking a time past, with all its outrageous obsessions, its illegal passions, its melancholy perfume.” —Toni Bentley, The New York Times Book Review

“Michael Holroyd is that rare biographer who is read for himself as much as for the sake of his subject . . .  It is hard to see how Mr. Holroyd could do better than this book.” —Carl Rollyson, The Wall Street Journal

A Book of Secrets frequently casts a rosy comic glow . . . Mr. Holroyd is an impeccable writer and researcher, a man whose books are packed with intricate detail yet retain a buoyancy. They are aerodynamic; they run as silently as gliders . . . This book is a richly marbled meditation not only on the lives of several remarkable women but also on the art of biography itself . . . [Holroyd’s] new book contains many fine moments during which, holding on with white knuckles, you might hear yourself cry, ‘Brilliant!’” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Master raconteur and biographer of Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey, the always elegant Holroyd is at the top of his game . . . Holroyd writes like an angel and memorably draws the rivulets of these fluid lives together.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A Book of Secrets is truly a book of revelations, of sudden, emotional jolts . . . The work of a master-biographer at the height of his powers . . . A beautifully structured narrative, punctuated by surprises and dazzling shifts in focus.” —Daisy Hay, The Daily Telegraph

“It’s a testament to Holroyd’s dexterity that this big, densely populated canvas never feels cluttered or confusing . . . As is always the case with Holroyd, the reader comes away equally inspired, equally curious, and lavishly entertained by a story-teller of the first rank.” —Lee Randall, The Scotsman

“Richly evocative and beautifully written . . . Holroyd’s skills as a researcher and detective are fully deployed, in miniature; and only a master could pull off such a book.” —Anne Chisholm, The Spectator

About the Author

Michael Holroyd is the author of acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw, the painter Augustus John, Lytton Strachey, and Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, as well as two memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. Knighted for his services to literature, he is the president emeritus of the Royal Society of Literature and the only nonfiction writer to have been awarded the David Cohen British Prize for Literature. His previous book, A Strange Eventful History, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography in 2009. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.

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Customer Reviews

I tried this book twice, but couldn't make it past page 50.
Carlotta Anderson
I felt like I was reading someone's notes gathered to write a book - rather than a cohesive, well thought out book.
Jfancher
Unfortunately, there was no narrative, or new revelation about the topic at all.
A. S. Haropulos

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on September 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not a biography of the usual sort. The subjects--there are more than one--move in circles where the wealth, money, and cultural and political power of early 20th century England are close at hand. These inter-linked lives include a wealthy British aristocrat named Ernest Beckett; his one-time fiancée Eve Fairfax, who sits for a sculpture by Rodin; Alice Keppel, mistress of the Prince of Wales and, later, Beckett; Violet Trefusis, the child of the Beckett-Keppel liaison; and better-known Vita Sackville-West, with whom Violet conducts a famous affair. Notoriety, rather than enduring accomplishment, distinguishes all of them; they are the kind of people who are footnotes in the biographies of the famous. More well-known personages appear and disappear: Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson, Winston Churchill, and others. The book also centers on a house, the fabulous Villa Cimbrone, in Italy.

Why read a book about people who aren't very important? Holroyd opens up their lives as if he were a novelist. Not for nothing is this "A Book of Secrets." Some of the secrets have to do with parentage, of course, and with sexual relationships long hidden or just plain forgotten. Others have to do with unexpected turns in life--what happens to the King's mistress when the King dies? What happens to a famous beauty who lives into her nineties? How does the scandalous Trefusis/Sackville-West love affair affect the lives of those closest to them?

Holroyd's own voice is not absent, in a lofty biographer sort of way, from these pages. Since each of his subjects is, in his or her own way, quite desperate for love and happiness, Holroyd himself seems to be asking the question: what makes a life a happy one?
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By carey roberts on August 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A BOOK of SECRETS. That title caught my eye. The author, Michael Holroyd, is a man of accomplishments, a noted biographer, the winner of literary prizes. I was intrigued by the book's subtitle, "Illegitimate Daugters, Absent Fathers" which suggested a work of psychological depth.

And, I have read it, despite the fact that the type is very smal in the hard-back copy, requiring some squinting and adjusting of the lamp. However, I'm not sure just what I read. This biography/memoir is divided into two parts with an epilogue. The chapter titles suggest the author's mood and sense of what he was writing:
The first chapter in Part One is titled, "The Importance of Being Ernest and Some Women of No Importance."
Well, there you have it! 'Don't take any of this too seriously'

The "Ernest" in question is Ernest Beckett, who was. indeed a real person, an Englishman of little importance, a man of quick and changing passions and interests, who inherited the title, Lord Grimthorpe. He is the linchpin in this book as Ernest is, indeed, the lover of ... the husband of ... the father of .. a handful of women of "no" or some or, occasionally, a fair amount of importance.

Michael Holroyd is a major character in this book as well for he begins with the story of how he first became interested in a woman named Eva Fairfax, moved by the haunting beauty of a bronze bust created by Rodin ... 'serene, clothed ina lingering air of melancholy." Holroyd's reaction to the bust led him to a search out the story of Eva - who was, at that time, engaged to Ernest Beckett. He had commissioned the bust.

And thus began Holroyd's journey into the story that is this book.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Diziet Sma on August 22, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A truly compelling, entertaining and informative book. Holroyd's style is so readable, the book just flows perfectly. However, I have a problem with the fact the Kindle edition doesn't include the photos. Other publishers include photos with their books. The Kindle app on the iPad displays photos beautifully. Even on the Kindle the photos look pretty good. A serious fail for this publisher.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Patricia TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 16, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a strange but intriguing book. The author Michael Holroyd, a distinguished English biographer, says this is his last book. His concentration in his long list of books seems to be on the English literati of the early 20th century. (His biography of Lytton Strachey was the basis of the film Carrington). This book involves a meandering search for the literary giants touched by the life and Italian villa of one Ernest Beckett. One of his mistresses was Alice Keppel, later the favorite of the Prince of Wales(who became Edward VII on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria). He starts with the impressive villa Beckett built in Italy called Villa Cimbrone and uses that as a base to trace the descendants of Beckett and the famous people they touched. If you are interested in this period of English history you will be impressed by the list: Rodin and his famous bust of Eve (another mistress of Ernest), Virginia Woolf, Alice Keppel and her daughter Violet Keppel Trefusis, D.H. Lawrence, Vita Sackville-West and her mother Lady Sackville. The list goes on and on. The most engrossing section of the whole book is the back and forth of the infamous lesbian affair between Violet Keppel Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West. A more complicated soap opera could not be written. It is incredible. And many of these people (and their descendants) wrote books in which they openly or fictionally told the stories of these affairs - so there is a lot of documentation to fall back on. Perhaps some of the more immediate and direct sources could tell the story more completely, but it is intriguing enough here to hold your attention.

The book meanders a bit - the whole first section is taken up with Ernest and it doesn't really get engrossing until the second part that covers the Violet-Vita affair.
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