From Publishers Weekly
In 1999, British biographer Holroyd (Lytton Strachey
, Bernard Shaw
) published his memoir Basil Street Blues
, and devoted readers wrote him letters with testimonies and memories that both enhanced and contradicted the careful family history he'd attempted to write. Now, Holroyd delves back into his family's past to "fill one more gap," resulting in a "requiem... a love story... a detective story, [and] finally a book of secrets revealed." However, revisiting his history a second time around does nothing to relieve the author's difficult moral dilemma: how does one respect a family's privacy while attempting to accurately render their lives? Holroyd spends most of the book delving further into the shadowy pasts of his grandmother (who was the mistress of French anarchist Jacques Prévert), mother and aunts, and into his own roller-coaster love affair with a colorful and passionate writer named Phillipa Pullar, whose "moods lurched and swerved violently, unaccountably—she swallowed purple hearts, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, all mixed with alcohol." Many of his recollections are fascinating portraits of individuals coming of age in the early 1900s, though readers unfamiliar with Basil
may tire of the lengths to which the author goes to uncover the minutiae of what may seem like "extravagantly humdrum people." Illus. not seen by PW
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"Basil Street Blues," a 1999 memoir by the well-known British biographer, recounted his feckless parents' slide from fortune in a masterly panorama of waning upper-middle-class life. This sequel clears up loose ends: readers, sometimes irate, write to correct aspects of the family story, and Holroyd hunts, often at extravagant length, for archival clues about some of the more elusive characters. This makes for a bit of a grab bag, but Holroyd can make even the red tape surrounding probate seem comic and sad. He comes closer to self-portrait than previously, wryly pointing up the detachment beneath his equable exterior. At the funeral of a nonagenarian aunt, he is the only mourner until a representative of her nursing home, who never met her, arrives and promptly bursts into tears: "Anyone seeing us must have concluded that she is the sorrowing relative and I the bland official."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker