Written like a taut thriller, A Life Discarded is rife with revelations and wrong turns before reaching its startling denouement. The author sprinkles his story with excerpts and doodles from the diary, which he sensitively parses, along with his own illustrations and photographs of relevant people and places. And even though Mr. Masters’s material is dark the book is both humorous and lively ... As Mr. Masters argues, what distinguishes this diary is an utter lack of artifice—and his moving account of this person’s life, as marginal as it may be, can help readers better understand themselves.
...a multilayered mystery and an inspiring biography of a person who, if not for Masters, might have been lost to time ... The joy in reading A Life Discarded lies in the uncovering of this anonymous person’s life. Masters has created a unique and special work that will appeal to amateur detectives, Anglophiles and lovers of humanity everywhere. Definitely worth a read.
His relationship with [the diaries] is, however, strange – and for this eager reader, vexing. He doesn’t whip through them, urgently seeking some clue as to their author’s identity. Nor does he put them in chronological order, or not for some years. Instead, he faffs around, looking at them piecemeal ... Masters’s stubbornness is of a different order altogether. It’s a condition, something to be looked up: Extreme and Wilful Procrastination ... if this stuff had to be exhumed at all, at least it was Masters who did the job; a more loving undertaker you could not hope to have ... At his best, Masters is a beautiful writer: funny, inquisitive and attentive...But he has allowed his whimsical side to get out of control; his circuitous, over-involved technique feels out of kilter with his subject.
The diaries in A Life Discarded are spiritual English trash — they live in an English landscape of dreaming woods and quelled hopes; they use an English vocabulary. Outsider art for sure, but also insider art, inside-her art. And as Masters — probably the only writer in the world who could have or would have done it this way — approaches their author, he simultaneously approaches something ineffable and thronelike: the span of a soul across an arc of time; the radiant, baffling grandeur of other people.