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.
Absorbing, moving and marvellously written ... [Tomalin's] prose is clear, level, unheated... She has the unusual gift, in everything she writes, of never making a difficult subject more difficult ... In the memoir, one feels she is more at home writing about Hardy or Dickens than herself – the tug of the literary wins ... [Tomalin's] lack of self-importance is refreshing, her consideration for others admirable, but I’d have liked her to indulge herself – and us – with a little more about her life now and its uncontroversial, non-literary diversions – her garden, her travels, the continuing distraction of a good lunch.
Something strange happens when a fantastic biographer turns the focus on herself: She gets sort of shy, a little laconic, understated in the English manner. Yet I drank in every word of [A Life of My Own], an account of the 60-plus-year career and times of the author, now in her mid-80s, whose experience absorbingly lays out the terrain for intelligent working women of her time, and contains breathtaking quantities of accomplishment and personal tragedy ... Through it all, Tomalin herself remains rather elusive... What she gives us here is profound and admirable, and I’ll take any wisdom I can get from a brilliant, stout-hearted writer, worker, mother, and wife—who sends me out for Pepys.
The fewest memoirists manage the sort of balancing act that characterizes Claire Tomalin’s A Life of My Own, which navigates artfully between tantalizing revelations and unobtrusive elisions ... Ms. Tomalin does an excellent job of evoking Cambridge in the early 1950s ... The pleasures of reading this book are many, not least the one of watching as Ms. Tomalin navigates the professional landscape as a strikingly attractive woman in a world of men. She deftly sidesteps offenses of the patriarchy ... I hesitate to call this book enchanting because Ms. Tomalin’s life is strewn with tragedy...but it is certainly an exceptional account, daunting and inspiring at the same time, written with no end of poignancy, humor and perspective.
Tomalin brings to her memoir a pro’s practiced ability at threading the personal, the professional and the contextual with details that sing ... A Life of My Own is among other things a record of Tomalin’s lifelong engagement with books ... It is also a wonderful evocation of London’s vibrant literary culture of the 1960s and ’70s ... Tomalin’s ability to compartmentalize and forge ahead defines her stalwart character ... Among the many pleasures of A Life of My Own is Tomalin’s portrait of her Gloucester Terrace neighborhood in north London ... The result is an elegant profile in courage and fortitude.
Claire Tomalin brings the same scrutiny and forensic intelligence to her own beginnings in A Life of My Own as she brought to the more shadowy aspects of the lives she investigated in her celebrated biographies ... The world’s bookshelves groan under the weight of memoirs of people whose lives have been warped by unloving parents, but this is not one of them ... Tomalin seems to have known or met just about everyone big and, as a result, she includes interludes of names-notching which, I am compelled to say, have all the narrative flow of a guest register. If the book has a fault it is here ... On the other hand, the book is also one of the rare instances of a work in which writing is made to seem interesting, even exciting. She brings the experience of being a biographer alive.
Fascinating ... straightforward, chronological, with few frills. Sometimes there is detail — trees, clothes, books read and music heard — at other times an event or an emotion is captured and dismissed in a passing phrase. Yet the life she describes is seething with emotional event ... the engine of this narrative works [in] the accumulation of detail that abruptly crystallises into drama ... [A Life of My Own will be one of] the great biographies we know her for.
A Life of My Own, is two books in one, and unfortunately they are not equally compelling ... The writing in the first half tends toward monotone, with endless lists of friends (especially those with famous parents) ... There is a bit of a stiff upper lip to the writing, despite all the trauma ... But the banal story she describes takes a dramatic turn and at that point the writing begins to pick up. It is in the second half of the memoir that Tomalin comes alive as the details of both her personal and professional life feel propulsive ... Her grief melts on the page, and it is palpable ... perhaps the shift midway in the book is intended to mirror the two phases of the life. Certainly for all concerned the second half is more enjoyable.
A Life of My Own is an antidote to the pappy, pop motivation of Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington, with their Lean In and Thrive manifestos ... [Tomalin] should be a heroine to modern snowflakes who melt at the first setback. Tomalin is like a glacier, unstoppable, inexorable, gathering grit and resolve as she goes ... The book is poised and beautifully paced. She reels you in and casts you out. She is intimate and confiding, distrustful and reclusive. She is like a new friend who spills secrets, pours out her heart, then shuts up like a clamshell when you ask for more.
In this memoir as in her acclaimed biographies, Tomalin lets the telling of a story reveal its own truth, unmarked by the moralizing of the soapbox. And what a story it is ... Although A Life of My Own isn’t meant to be a work of literary criticism, the centrality of books in Tomalin’s life underscores the need for deeper dives into her intellectual views ... one senses in reading A Life of My Own that Tomalin never grows completely comfortable putting herself in the foreground ... But Tomalin’s reticence can be charming, too – a refreshing corrective to the contemporary fashion in confessional narrative.
[Tomalin has tried] to tackle her life in the way she would that of any other subject. Like any scrupulous biographer, she uses footnotes and outlines her sources. She [focuses] on the facts ... In her introductory note, Tomalin says she has tried, as Pepys did in his diaries, to give the 'texture' of a life. This she has achieved brilliantly. What isn’t quite so clear is how many glimpses she has given us of her heart.
A gifted biographer with a wonderfully light and pin-precise touch, Tomalin has compressed her own difficult, often tragic yet highly successful life into a surprisingly compact volume ... Her meticulous, empathetic biographies, like this memoir, send the reader back in dizzy delight to books and more books. Tomalin is a true and infectious reader, a legacy from her mother who told her 'that whatever happens to you, however unhappy you might be, you can escape into a book.'
Readers hoping for more than a somewhat clinical backward glance will note something...there’s no direct recounting of what must have been a storm of guilt and anger and outrage; instead, Tomalin, ever the careful researcher, consults the primary sources. It’s elegantly written, but it employs exactly the same combination of exactitude and reserve that a biographer might bring ... Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Life of My Own consequently comes most alive when Tomalin is writing about writing. Her chronicle of literary London reads less vivaciously but rings truer than similar ones written by more roistering types, and her account of the daily juggling acts of a working literary editor at the Sunday Times is a priceless combination of warmth and precision.
An extraordinarily candid autobiography ... Readers seeking a detailed account of Tomalin’s influential life within British letters will certainly celebrate her honest perceptions of herself, her parents and in-laws, husbands, children, other authors and editors, publishers, tycoons, and other important historical figures ... Gossipy at times, mostly serious about literary life, and always smoothly written.