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Redeeming Features: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 10, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this chatty, self-absorbed memoir told with a hefty dose of name-dropping and a devout reverence for fame and fortune, British interior decorator Haslam proudly reveals his intimate connections with many members of British and American high society from the 1950s to the present, from his distant relation to Princess Diana to his brief but adoring encounters with Tallulah Bankhead, Mick Jagger, the Beatles, Joan Crawford, and many more. Indeed his busy social life started young; for most of the first hundred pages he is a fairly wide-eyed ingénue at Eton, followed by stints in London, New York, California, and back to London as a magazine editor, interior designer, and columnist. His has been a life where everyone and everything is darling and divine; in his world, elevator doors open to reveal Salvador Dalí, and Andy Warhol is a frequent and amusing dinner companion. While claiming to be telling all, Haslam hides most of what makes many memoirs truly personal and affecting; in exchange readers get a chance to feel as if they are on a first-name basis with the stars. His superficial obsession with high society is, still, highly entertaining and refreshingly honest, and will delight those who travel in international circles of design and fashion. (Dec.)
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“Nicky Haslam reveals his extraordinary talent as a memoirist and chronicler of international High Society. Touching, funny, and wonderfully indiscreet, he makes us wish we could all join his circle of friends.”
–Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

“What a life! And one that could only be recounted by the man that lived it. Written with great brio, wit, and worldliness–uniquely wonderful!”
–William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart

“Nicky Haslam has known everyone from Greta Garbo to Cole Porter to the Royal Family, with many unforgettable eccentrics in between. But this is not a catalogue of celebrities. It is a truly felt, beautifully crafted, wise consideration of a full life, which paints an unforgettable picture of a vanished England and America. Masterpiece is an overused word, but this Proustian evocation is indeed a masterpiece.”
–A. N. Wilson, author of After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World

“Witty, moving, and gloriously indiscreet, Redeeming Features is deliriously enjoyable. Nicholas Haslam depicts his Proustian world with brilliant incisiveness, showing himself to be one of those rare writers who can translate a highly developed visual sense into the most dazzlingly original prose.”
–Selina Hastings, author of Nancy Mitford: A Biography

“A bon vivant and blueblood channels his inner Proust, to marvelous effect. British designer Haslam is a master of the well-dropped name: Here comes Jack Nicholson, there goes Diane Vreeland, here Andy Warhol, there Mick Jagger. But he is more than that; he’s also a summoner of memory to rival, it seems, Jorge Luis Borges’s Funes. The evoker of this memory is not a buttery madeleine, but the clinking latches and billowy cloudscapes of southern England, among the opening images in Haslam’s recounting of an offbeat but decidedly interesting childhood in a country house called Hundridge among an artistic family whose elders had little use for convention. His father and mother had been familiars with the likes of Maxim Gorky and H.G. Wells . . . A delight-gossipy, fluent and literate, all set in motion by ‘a sudden view, a muddy scent, the creak of a hinge [that] might manifest childhood’s mirage.’”
Kirkus Reviews
“The book is set on a planet akin to earth but peopled only with the famous and the fabulous. And so he paints watercolors for Princess Michael of Kent, gives a party for the Rolling Stones and hosts Truman Capote at his horse ranch.”
—Andrew Bast, Newsweek
“Haslam has been at the centre of every glittering circle . . .”
—Emily Bearn, Tatler (UK)
“Haslam is not only an indefatigable networker; his book offers the most eloquent proof that name-dropping has come of age.”
—Sebastian Shakespeare, Evening Standard (London)
“His story is gripping, because he has led such an extraordinary life.”
—Lynn Barber, The Sunday Times Magazine (London)

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307271676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271679
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #689,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're up to date on your stylish Brits and Amos, you'll love Nicholas Haslam's autobiography, "Redeeming Features". Haslam was born to a wealthy and connected family in the early days of WW2. The youngest son - of three children - he was raised in a country home safely located outside London and the German bombings. After the war, he was stricken with polio and was bed-bound for a couple of years. He later was sent away to school, and then on to Eton. However, Nicky made a life outside of his four walls at Eton. Realising early his sexuality, he mainly used Eton as a base for his real life in London, amid the clever and trendy people he befriended. Haslam has lived life to the fullest, it seems, in his 70 years. He is currently an interior designer of note, and also writes for both shelter and style magazines. He's lived - and loved - in many places; London, the south of France, Morocco, Jamaica, Barbados, Los Angeles, and, for a short time, northern Arizona! Haslam "names names", but never in a mean way. His writing is delightful and the reader is introduced to many unforgettable characters Haslam has met, worked with, and loved in his life.

I can't really recommend this book to the average reader. I think if you didn't "know" at least most of the names he writes about, you wouldn't enjoy it. For those of us who do "know" the names, "Redeeming Features" is a fun read.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, I felt like a diamond miner in the Kimberly Mine after a very long day, picking in the walls with only a few diamonds to show for the effort. Was it an entertaining read? Yes. Was I bored out of my mind at times? Yes. The name dropping is relentless, but also superficial. How can I say this--it's as if Haslam himself was a bit of a third wheel in so many of his encounters, that I felt like one myself!

The worst part of it is when he veers into his own relationships. They seem like high school breakups with all the accompanying jealousies and angst.

Years ago, I had a dear gay friend tell me, "I'm the same as you, but less substantial." When he explained this to me, he said that his homosexuality prevented, to his great sorrow, forming the close bonds of spouse, children and family. Unfortunately, there is a bit of this in Haslam's book, an emptiness despite the fantastic friends, society, and country bolt-hole.

I enjoyed the gossip, true--but I felt a lot of pity, a strange feeling when I anticipated a lot of fun. How can I articulate this--brittle--yes, this was a brittle read.
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Haslam had more adventures before he left school than most men have in a lifetime. His touch is as light as his step when he shares the dirt on people everybody knows if everybody is somebody. Good fun.
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Nicky Haslam is a talented writer, if a little flowery and over-the-top in his use of adjectives and obscure vocabulary but, overall, this was an entertaining read. It was less a memoir, though, than a dizzying array of celebrity name-dropping, so many it was hard to keep track of who everyone was. It was like standing on a train platform and watching a high-speed train shoot past, filled with celebrities, royals, and aristocrats at the window. Too bad the train never stopped or, at least, slowed down enough so we could get to know some of the characters in more depth and detail. Haslam's book reminded me a bit of the memoirs of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, 18th century portrait painter to the royals of Europe, wherein she'd say flattering things about all the rich and famous people she knew. The result ended up flattering herself, just for being associated with them, as well as making sure not to bite any of the famous hands that fed her. And it didn't say anything meaningful about her life or her work or her philosophy of life. This book felt the same - less self-reflection than basking in the reflected glory of those with whom he socialized. Still, kudos to Nicky for having such a fabulous life. That, too, takes talent!
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Nicky Haslam has been a social fixture on the transatlantic scene for decades. He's legendary for all sorts of reasons, and obviously either has an eidetic memory or keeps detailed journals stretching back decades on every party he's attended, every house he's entered, and every person he's ever met or slept with. He is, as someone said, a man who would attend a lighted candle, needless to say a party. Perhaps due to his great good looks and his all-encompassing charm Nicky has met simply everyone interesting, starting in his early teenage years with an afternoon with Tallulah Bankhead and onward from there. Every single page of his autobiography glitters with famous names. And, surprisingly enough, the book is well-written, as well. In particular, it seems that Nicky worked especially hard on adding particularly elegiac observations of the countryside as a way of keeping his book from being simply a laundry list of the great and good, the notoriously bad, and the ugly.

Ugly is something I would also use to describe some of what Nicky writes in Redeeming Features. He deliberately inserts some of the very most disobliging things about people in society that I have ever read. In particular, Mr Haslam seems to really dislike the late Alvilde Lees-Milne, and provides certain quite repellent assertions about her personal life with the late Princess Winnareta de Polignac, nee Singer, as well as supposedly recording a catty remark regarding Winnie and Alvilde by her husband's old school chum Harold Acton. Since there are no book sales to be made from mentioning someone so long dead (1994) and comparatively unfamous one can only assume that Nicky was settling an old score.
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