QUICKSANDS by Sybille Bedford


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Breathless, halting memoir in fragments by the English stylist, friend and biographer of Aldous Huxley, and late-blooming novelist.

Bedford begins in the middle of her life, in 1953, when she’s in her early 40s, meandering happily in Switzerland and savoring the publication of her first novel. By fits and starts, she then moves back in time, noting that in Italy after WWII, on the island of Ischia, when she was 36, she and her journalist friend Martha Gellhorn (post-Hemingway) ran into an old family acquaintance, the so-called “Kraut Baronessa,” who had married a German diplomat and worked on the “wrong side” of the war (friendly with Franco, among others); seeing her evokes the Italian aristocratic milieu of Bedford’s mother, who left her husband and remarried a handsome Italian, Alessandro, and would summon her daughter, living in the English Midlands, to spend the summers with her. Gradually, the full story emerges: Bedford’s loafing Monte Carlo collector father and wealthy, fickle mother raised her for a spell at a grand country house in the southwest corner of Germany before separating to glamorous far-flung regions; eventually, the nearly illiterate daughter ran away from home to find her married half-sister, Jacko, in Rome. Despite her lack of formal education, young Bedford wanted to be a writer, and composed several unpublished novels before her middle-aged coup, all the while journeying across Europe and Mexico with friends such as her mentor Pierre Mimerel, a social philosopher, and Aldous Huxley and his wife, Maria, who orchestrated Bedford’s hasty marriage to one of their “bugger friends” in order to secure an English passport. It’s a shifting, erratic journey through the century, most affecting when Bedford halts to describe her mother’s descent into morphine addiction, while the 20 later years, living in sunny climes with American Eda Lord, are dismissed in a paragraph.

Waiting for the next installment of Bedford’s “siren song of the daily round.” (Meanwhile, Counterpoint will be reissuing her nine other works.)

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-58243-169-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005


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