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Brief, disjointed autobiographical remembrances of Bloomsbury's great and not-so-great from one of its last surviving members. From Maynard Keynes to the Stracheys, the gang's all here, but broadly sketched with a handful of usually unremarkable anecdotes that rarely reflect novelist and biographer Bell's (The Brandon Papers, 1985; Virginia Woolf, 1972; etc.) unique access. Instead of insights, we are treated to reminiscences of pleasant picnics and visits to art museums or a party where someone behaved not quite appropriately. Bell is a little more revealing when he turns to the members of his extended family and their byzantine relationships. He includes sketches of them all: His parents, critic Clive Bell and painter Vanessa Bell, and both her lovers, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, as well as Grant's lover David ""Bunny"" Garnett, who later married Vanessa's daughter by Grant, Angela. Bell treats all this potentially prurient material in a formal, no-sex-please-we're-British manner that comes across not so much as tactful as strangely detached. His emotional tone is the same whether he is writing about distant acquaintances, such as the notorious traitor Anthony Blunt, or about his father's many infidelities. In fact, the tone throughout tends toward a cool, low-key flatness, though there are moments of wit and perception, even revelation. Usually Bell is a first-rate biographer. His book on Virginia Woolf is sympathetic, incisive, and cogently coherent. Perhaps this book's fatal flaw is its structuring device, an awkward mix of autobiography and biography. But nothing hangs together. It is like flipping through an artist's sketchbook, everything raw and disordered. Or worse, like sitting in someone's living room and being forced to go through their family photo albums.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1996
ISBN: 0231105649
Page count: 234pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.