PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Hermione Lee’s immensely long Tom Stoppard: A Life is expert, engrossing, entertaining and sympathetic to its subject ... She is better on the life than on the plays. Her criticism is a matter of inviting every possible interpretation to the party, and, increasingly, summarising the (not particularly enlightening) first-night critics. But her biography is long enough to include some wonderful marginalia ... Here, then, is the life, as well told as it’s ever likely to be. Now we know about his circumcision, his dental implants, the laser eye treatment, his Type-2 diabetes, his cronky knees, his smoker’s breathlessness. But the play’s the thing.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)A rich, gamey biography, then. With some extremely interesting technical information about, for instance, etching, and Freud’s use of Cremnitz white (a banned substance he bought in bulk when it was made illegal) ... pungent and involving ... It would have helped had Feaver included an appendix-supplement of brief biographical sketches — as in the ongoing edition of T.S. Eliot’s collected letters. There are lovely Freudian quips here ... But now and again, faced with this Knausgaardian compulsive inclusion, this epic of gossip, the artist’s complete asides, you wonder whether certain inclusions have earned their place in the story ... In this biography of revelations, some things remain opaque.
MixedThe Spectator (UK)These selected snippets of gossip, however interesting, are, you might think, peripheral to the life of Lucian Freud. But they tell us something crucial about the first volume of William Feaver’s biography. It is also an autobiography — written up from tapes and daily, noted, telephone conversations with his subject. Freud, who in his lifetime had a reputation for discretion and was litigious if his privacy was encroached on, was an unstoppable gossip. \'How old am I now?’ he would ask. And that is a chronological question the reader is also liable to ask in the spate of non-stop disclosure ... As a biographical method, the rewards are obvious ... The drawbacks are repetition, obscure chronology, tangled confusion in the telling — often quoted directly — and lack of explanatory annotation. On the one hand, first-hand, hand-held authenticity; on the other, a slight uncertainty and sometimes a yen for something more sober, something clearer ... here, Freud gets to tell his version of events with patchy panache.