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Mosaic: A Family Memoir Revisited Hardcover – August, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

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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From The New Yorker

"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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition (August 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393052737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393052732
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Michael Holroyd had done much research in `Basil Street Blues' into the history of his family (see my Amazon review). But after he had published it in 1999, he discovered, in one way or another, a lot more about their lives and about those who were never, strictly speaking, formally members of the family - enough to make this book, published five years after the first. He says in his preface that he has composed it "so that anyone can follow the narrative without having read, or remembered, the earlier book." That does mean that anyone who had recently read the first book (or indeed anyone who reads the edition in which the two books are printed in one volume) will find some repetition - not only of events and characterizations, but also of the author's own attitudes. So, for instance, near the beginning of the present volume he rages again against the bureaucracy that follows a death of his aunt Yolande (who had still been alive - just - when he wrote "Basil Street Blues"); the previous volume had had a similar tirade after the earlier death of his father.

However, there is certainly a lot of new material. He tells us what readers of `Basil Street Blues' have written to him, some of which gives him information he had not had before. One of his readers, the novelist Margaret Forster, had said that in the previous volume he had revealed relatively little about himself. This leads first to his ruminations about how, as a biographer, he probably hid his own personality behind those of his subjects. He first seems to evade describing himself by setting a class of students he had at one time in the United States an assignment to describe how he appeared to them.
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Mosaic: A Family Memoir Revisited
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