A Life of My Own: Book summary and reviews of A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin

A Life of My Own

by Claire Tomalin

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin X
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2018
    352 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

Esteemed biographer and legendary literary editor Claire Tomalin's stunning memoir of a life in literature.

In A Life of My Own, the renowned biographer of Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and Thomas Hardy, and former literary editor for the Sunday Times reflects on a remarkable life surrounded by writers and books. From discovering books as a form of escapism during her parents' difficult divorce, to pursuing poetry at Cambridge, where she meets and marries Nicholas Tomalin, the ambitious and striving journalist, Tomalin always steered herself towards a passionate involvement with art. She relives the glittering London literary scene of the 1960s, during which Tomalin endured her husband's constant philandering and numerous affairs, and revisits the satisfaction of being commissioned to write her first book, a biography of the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. In biography, she found her vocation. However, when Nick is killed in 1973 while reporting in Israel, the mother of four put aside her writing to assume the position of literary editor of the New Statesman. Her career soared when she later moved to the Sunday Times, and she tells with dazzling candor of this time in her life spent working alongside the literary lights of 1970s London. But, the pain of her young daughter's suicide and the challenges of caring for her disabled son as a single mother test Claire's strength and persistence. It is not until later in life that she is able to return to what gave her such purpose decades ago, writing biographies, and finds enduring love with her now-husband, playwright Michael Frayn.

Marked by honesty, humility, and grace, rendered in the most elegant of prose, A Life of My Own is a portrait of a life, replete with joy and heartbreak. With quiet insight and unsparing clarity, Tomalin writes autobiography at its most luminous, delivering an astonishing and emotionally-taut masterpiece distinguished by the deep and hard-won wisdom of devastating loss but even more extraordinary love.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] captivating and thorough memoir. Tomalin sets out to describe her 'experience of the world'…a gracious, inspiring look at her family, colleagues, and friends." - Publishers Weekly

"An extraordinarily candid autobiography… Gossipy at times, mostly serious about literary life, and always smoothly written." - Kirkus

"Now in her eighties, Tomalin offers an elegant, inspiring, and informative look at the literary life. Recommended for memoir fans and lovers of excellent writing." - Library journal

"[Tomalin] is a master craftswoman, and it's a thrill to see her prose and capacity for moving storytelling turned on her own life… If it leads you to read some of her biographies (Jane Austen is a favorite), you'll be better off." - Vogue.com

"You will find it hard not to be amazed and impossible not to be moved by the indomitable spirit which drives this memoir...She comes across like the heroine of a great novel...a hugely entertaining book." - The Guardian (UK)

"Absorbing, moving and marvellously written." - The Observer (UK)

"Her memoir is peppered with fascinating pen portraits and anecdotes... she has tried, as Pepys did in his life, to give the 'texture' of a life. This she has achieved quite brilliantly." - Sunday Times (UK)

"She should be a heroine to modern snowflakes who melt at the first hurdle. Tomalin is like a glacier: unstoppable, inexorable, gathering resolve as she goes... The book is poised and beautifully paced." - Times (UK)

"She has been tested in ways few women are. Her ability to overcome adversity may seem discreetly, even austerely handled, but for Claire Tomalin this memoir is another triumph." - Literary Review (UK)

"It is not Tomalin's professional life that impresses most in this memoir but her survival through personal tragedy, or rather, her remarkable ability to articulate its bleakness... She speaks from the heart but retains a sort of privacy, and is all the more powerful for it." - Evening Standard (UK)

"As well as her adventures in literary London as a hack, we also see a private life of contentment and heartbreak." - The Times Books of the Year (UK)

"Ambushingly poignant." - Observer Books of the Year (UK)

"As one of the best biographers of her generation, Claire Tomalin had written about great novelists and poets to huge success: now, she turns to look at her own life." - Guardian Books of the Year (UK)

"In this triumph of clear sightedness, Tomalin turns her biographers searchlight on herself." - Sunday Times Culture Books of the Year (UK)

"I loved Claire Tomalin's memoir and ate through it in a day when I was supposed to be doing other things. So interesting and delightful and charming. I loved how she weaves the big dramatic events with the everyday - which is so much of what life is." - Cathy Rentzenbrink, bestselling author of The Last Act of Love

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Author Information

Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin is the author of eight highly acclaimed biographies, including Thomas Hardy and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. She has previously won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Hawthornden Prize, the NCR Book Award for Non-Fiction, and the Whitbread Biography Award. Educated at Cambridge University, she served as literary editor of the New Statesman and The Sunday Times. Claire Tomalin lives in London and is married to the playwright Michael Frayn.

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