An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life.

MARY SHELLEY

A new biography of the author of Frankenstein that aims to comprehend her character rather than assess or advance her literary standing.

The first part of the story is well-known. In 1814, 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of two brilliant and celebrated liberal thinkers, eloped with her father’s married disciple, Percy Shelley. Two years later, Mary’s masterpiece was conceived on a stormy night at Byron’s house in Switzerland. After eight itinerant years in Percy’s entourage, which included her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, she returned to England with her one surviving child, widowed, penniless, and, despite first-class literary connections that she retained throughout her life, a social pariah. Determined to exhalt Percy’s literary reputation but forbidden by her intransigent father-in-law from using his name in print, she wrangled with publishers and biographers behind the scenes, writing what she could to support her family. She died in 1851, almost 30 years after her husband. In able if somewhat repetitive prose, novelist and biographer Seymour (Robert Graves, 1995, etc.) considers the personality of a woman who, having defied convention in youth, courted respectability for the rest of her life. Though won over by the poet's passions for sexual freedom and social justice, Mary was never a Shelleyan radical; she married Percy as soon as she could and always resented Claire’s presence in their ménage. Most biographers have considered how the events in Mary’s life fed the chronic sense of abandonment that Frankenstein’s Creature so magnificently expresses. Seymour prefers to emphasize Mary’s obsessive temperament and her guilt over the suicide of Percy’s first wife and over her own withdrawal from the poet before he died. Defending Mary’s later narrowness, Seymour points out the unhappiness of a life burdened throughout by financial distress and the distortions of celebrity. Aside from her political ideas and activities, which Seymour carefully tracks, Mary’s other intellectual interests are rather neglected. They are better addressed by Muriel Spark’s 40-year-old study and by more recent criticism, to which this work serves as a worthy complement.

An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1702-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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