A Scottish ghostwriter materializes with a florid, aphoristic, generous account of her nearly 15-year association with Quartet Books in England.
Erdal’s poignant and even-spirited memoir tells of the “finely balanced symbiosis” she achieved from 1981, when she first met the wealthy Lebanese Naim Attallah—whom she calls Tiger—to 1998, when their marriage-like partnership finally dissolved. Originally from Fife, Erdal, a mother with two children, traveled to London to meet Tiger for work on Russian translations, an undertaking that led to their first publishing coup, Red Square. Tiger was a “bird of paradise” with the finest, rarest furnishings and clothes (“Go on, touch!” he cries. “I have only the best”) who employed a bevy of aristocratic young women in his London office. He went to any length to satisfy his considerable vanity (his style was “a lethal combination of charm and chutzpah”), and Erdal became his amanuensis. She ghostwrote everything from Tiger’s love letters to his 1,200-page Asking Questions (a series of interviews with famous women), two later novels, and a newspaper column. Her double life suited her, since she was able to carry out her duties from home in Scotland—except when her marriage broke up. Her descriptions are rich and gently humorous, especially the details about her childhood in Fife and about working holidays writing Tiger’s novels at his Dordogne country house, where she witnessed the grisly ritual of raw meat being fed to his beloved, murderous Doberman guard dogs. The nuts and bolts of the publishing enterprise are the least interesting; the extended extracts from the writers’ collaborated sex scenes are also fairly tedious. Erdal’s revelations about her Napoleonic boss refrain from nastiness, yet her coyness in refusing to name names (still!) even her new husband’s name—seems like a childish disguise. Indeed, the reader has to wonder what possessed this intelligent, gifted writer to collude in her selflessness all those years.
Still, a gracefully executed hall of mirrors.