Basil Street Blues (Isis) Audio CD – Unabridged, April 1, 2002
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- Publisher : Isis Audio Books; Unabridged edition (April 1, 2002)
- Language: : English
- ISBN-10 : 0753113244
- ISBN-13 : 978-0753113240
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,811,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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The book comes to life, and most stylishly so, when Michael Holroyd could observe his family personally: his grandfather Fraser, his neurotic grandmother Adeline, their daughter Yolande, his father Basil and his mother, the Swedish-born Ulla ("Sue"). The family had come down in the world, from Brocket, an Edwardian country house near Maidenhead, to small flats in London, from the knighthood of an 18th century Judge of the King's Bench, through a Major-General, to running the British agency for Lalique glass which eventually fell out of fashion: the agency was plunged into bankruptcy in 1939. Michael was four years old at the time. Basil would then earn a meagre living as a salesman.
When the war broke out, Michael and his parents moved into the Fraser's household in the smaller house, Norhurst, into which Fraser, Adeline and Yolande had moved from Brocket. They were all embittered by a sense of failure, and there was continual and noisy quarreling in the family. It must have been hell for a small only child, but Michael took refuge in reading as soon as he could read, and in this book he wittily and poignantly recounts these quarrels (as he had done in a roman à clef - A Dog's Life - which had given deep offence to Basil).
And then of course there is Michael's own life. There is the preparatory school to which he was sent although his father had hated it there. His parents' divorced when he was eleven (Basil and Ulla would each marry twice more, all four marriages also ending in divorces. Michael will describe his mother's somewhat rackety life with filial indulgence). Basil was earning a meagre living as a salesman (and later would start up optimistically a whole series of businesses - the last one when he was approaching eighty - which never took off), but financial help first from an uncle and then from his mother's second husband enabled Michael to go to follow his father to Eton. There he fitted in fairly unobtrusively, as he had into his prep school.
There follow two boring years as an articled clerk to a solicitor, and then - hilariously described -two years of National Service.
Michael had always wanted to be a writer. Already as a boy he had read a lot of biographies, including the one by Hugh Kingsmill of Frank Harris. He became so fascinated by Kingsmill that he decided to write a biography of him. He got in touch with two of Kingsmill's friends: Hesketh Pearson and William Gerhardie, both then well-known on the literary scene. With the help of these two he broke into that scene himself, though it took him six years to find a publisher (1924). A little frustratingly, he says nothing about the process of research, or about what he lived on until he finally broke through with his famous biographies of Lytton Strachey (two volums, 1967/8), Augustus John (two volumes, 1974/5) and Bernard Shaw (four volumes, between 1998 and 1992). He says nothing about his life during those years in this book other than recording harrowing stories of the sad last years of his grandfather, of his aunt (though she loses her bitterness in her extreme old age), and of his parents. He rages against the bureaucracy he had to deal with over and over again at each stage of their decline and indeed after their deaths. And with their deaths he brings to an end this Family Story.
In 2004 Holroyd published a companion volume to this one, called "Mosaic" (see my Amazon review).
In this autobiography, he grasps as shreds of his family life, trying to piece together a coherent narrative. For the reader, the numerous relatives and switching of time frames, it becomes difficult to follow. Despite this, one feels drawn in to his search for meaning in the family's behavior.
It's an interesting, though fragmented view, of a British family clinging to past glories and bemoaning lost wealth. I really wish it included a photo section.
All of this makes for great reading, but something is missing. It's the essence of the author himself. He does chronicle his childhood, military service (one of the best chapters) and some of his career moves. But what about personal matters closer at hand? His wife, for example, is mentioned only in a sentence in the "Acknowledgements." We are not told anything about her in this memoir. Perhaps he is saving the details of his more intimate life for another book. Let's hope so. I do recommend this book for anyone who appreciates fine writing and has a fascination with biography.