In A Life of My Own, the renowned biographer of Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and Thomas Hardy, and former literary editor for the Sunday Times reflects on a remarkable life surrounded by writers and books. A Life of My Own is a portrait of a life, replete with joy and heartbreak.
Tomalin brings to these pages the same equanimity she does to her biographies and, at times, yet more restraint: no Tomalin subject would be likely to get away with so slender an account of an exhilarating romance with Martin Amis ... This is in many ways a private book, hardly the most selling word in memoir but no less gripping for it. One does wonder if Tomalin treads lightly, nearly shyly ... Tomalin is decidedly less pointed in her memoir than in the short pieces that serve as connective tissue to her 1999 collection of criticism. (She is also less naughty: we no longer catch her, while employed by his publisher, steaming open Graham Greene’s mail.) She defers regularly to her diary, which effectively keeps the emotions at bay ... The style is cool, light, crisp—linen on the page. She has reduced the writing life to six words: 'silence, hard slog, loneliness, old clothes' ... as the powerful literary editor of The Sunday Times ... [a] tour of the British literary firmament follows: if you want to know who wrote long, who wrote fast, and who wrote only when not drinking, here is your chance. Success does not translate into the most successful pages, however ... It is unclear if self-exposure has cheered her or if after 331 pages Tomalin sees herself any more clearly. We certainly do ... She proves...as brave as she is eloquent, sustained by comic opera, the heroine of her own life after all.
A Life of My Own, is on one level a phlegmatic tour of a fruitful life ... On another level, the book is one shock after another ... A Life of My Own has a formal quality. Occasionally there is the unhappy sense that Tomalin is viewing her own life from too great a distance, as if she were a biographer working through a stranger’s life from file cards. She is a fluid writer but not the sort to go in search of le mot juste. Original ideas and memorable turns of phrase are rare ... Yet there is genuine appeal in watching this indomitable woman continue to chase the next draft of herself. After a while, the pages turn themselves. Tomalin has a biographer’s gift for carefully husbanding her resources, of consistently playing out just enough string. When she needs to, she pulls that string tight.
You will find it hard not to be amazed, and impossible not to be moved, by the indomitable spirit that drives this memoir ... Though dealt a terrible hand in her middle years, Claire Tomalin remains so utterly without self-pity, so brimful of stoicism and courage, that at times she comes across like the heroine of a great novel ... a hugely entertaining book ... Tomalin exercises a discretion on her private life she would never dream of conceding to her biographical subjects.