Illuminating, but as the author himself suggests, it’s the beginning of the discussion about Murdoch’s life, not the end....

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IRIS MURDOCH

A LIFE

A long but selective biography that focuses on the distinguished British novelist as an expert on love, emphasizing her many affairs and intense friendships.

Briskly summarizing Murdoch’s Anglo-Irish ancestry and birth in Dublin in 1919, Conradi devotes the longest portion to the period from his subject’s years as an Oxford undergraduate through jobs as a civil servant in wartime London and as a UN refugee worker in postwar Europe, to her teaching post at Cambridge in 1947 and ’48. During those years, richly detailed through her letters and journals, Murdoch joins the Communist party and excels in her philosophy studies. She works hard, yet everything seems almost effortless to her, including maintaining close ties with her many friends. These early connections are frequently the models for her novels’ characters, though she denies the portraits are directly drawn from life. Conradi deftly weaves throughout the text an account of Murdoch’s political activism, including her complicated views on Ireland. The author loses steam a bit in the second half, when he introduces her future husband, literary critic John Bayley, whom she met around the time she was writing her first novel, Under the Net (1954). Conradi discusses Murdoch’s fiction best in terms of the relationships that influence it. And he leaves out a lot. After her school days, there is scant mention of her family, though she was close to both her parents. There is only one description of the strain her enduring marriage to Bayley might have suffered because of her extramarital attachments, lesbian and otherwise. Her illness and death from Alzheimer’s in 1999 are briefly, though movingly, touched upon. Given the fact that the author is Murdoch’s literary executor (and the book is dedicated to Bayley), it’s not too surprising that no one has a bad word for her, with the exception of one former lover, novelist Elias Canetti. It’s also true that, as Murdoch herself admitted, very few people really know her. Conradi could well be one of them.

Illuminating, but as the author himself suggests, it’s the beginning of the discussion about Murdoch’s life, not the end. (50 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04875-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 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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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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