Many people had asked her what these literary giants were really like. This book was to be the answer, and you do get an intimate close-up of two legendary Parisian writers, plus their friends and relations, over the two decades she spent researching, interviewing and writing about them. But Parisian Lives is more than a guidebook for literary tourists or would-be biographers. It is a scalding revenge on the gatekeepers Bair had to confront in order to write the book ... That confident woman is the narrator but not the subject of this memoir. Bair called on all her professional skill to bring her younger self back to life. Even after all her accomplishments and honours, she still felt the bitterness of that young woman and the hot rage of that wronged scholar, and that is the main reason Parisian Lives is so gripping. Sometimes it’s the thrill of the car crash, but mostly the triumph over the Becketteering boys in the back room.
In this gripping 'bio-memoir,' Bair candidly, dramatically, and sometimes bemusedly recounts the shocking adversity, both devious and outright vicious, that she encountered throughout the seven long years she worked diligently on her groundbreaking book ... Bubbling with piquant profiles, astounding anecdotes, and illuminating insights into the ethics of and obstacles to biography, Bair’s look-back makes all the more remarkable her subsequent and exceptional biographies of Anaïs Nin, Carl Jung, Saul Steinberg, and Al Capone. A zippy biographer’s tale [.]
This is the real story of Parisian Lives. It promises insights into the art of biography, perhaps a little gossip, perhaps a more intimate look of Beckett and Beauvoir. Instead it is something more unusual: an itemized receipt of the costs of female ambition ... It is this thread that runs through the book: how professional and intellectual aspirations in women are mocked, diverted, punished ... [Bair] marks every slight, every humiliation, while noting how pleasant, how unruffled she tried to stay at the time ... Although she quotes the critic Margo Jefferson approvingly — 'How do you reveal yourself without asking for love or pity?' — this book clamors for love, sympathy, recognition; it rejects the concealments necessary to preserve certain forms of dignity, certain forms of injustice.
Anyone planning to write a biography of a living person might be forewarned by Deirdre Bair’s 'bio-memoir,' her gripping account ... In Parisian Lives, which reads much like a 'making of…' documentary, she gives us her off-camera take on her first two biographies. And, to our delight, we become voyeurs ... a story well told.
This juicy book, which [Bair] dubs a 'bio-memoir,' is at once a record of triumph over the skepticism and sexism she encountered on her path from journalist to academic and biographer and a valuable lesson in the art of biography ... The focus of Parisian Lives is more often on the scramble for grants and teaching gigs than one might wish, but the predominant impression is of the rampant sexism Ms. Bair had to surmount as a young, female scholar and biographer ... Another guiding principle, she notes, is that good literary biographies should send readers back to their subjects’ writings. By that measure, Parisian Lives is an unqualified success. After finishing it, I jumped into Ms. Bair’s compulsively readable Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett.
The Beckett chapters sometimes get bogged down with name dropping, yet they’re genuinely suspenseful ... Readers who aren’t writers may not care about the minutiae of writing a biography that Bair details here: the grants she applied for, the word processing software she used. But even readers uninterested in going deep into the weeds will find the broader landscape breathtaking. And some of those weeds are worth admiring ... At its best, the book is a unique glimpse into a bygone literary era. Whether you adore the works of Beckett and Beauvoir or cordially detest them, this memoir will deepen your appreciation of the impassioned feelings they provoked.
... mortifying and fury-eliciting anecdotes ... While Bair’s writing in Parisian Lives can be stilted, hokey, and reflective of a rather rigid emotional intelligence, she tells a story that is nonetheless enthralling and leaves the reader marveling at her perseverance ... yet, despite the sympathy Bair elicits, one still finds room to be enraged at her occasional naïveté and curious silences ... Bair’s relationship with Beauvoir was far more relaxing — which, unfortunately, makes for less engaging reading ... does this book succeed as a memoir? In a way. Throughout, Bair tries to twin the processes of subject-discovery with self-discovery ... one can’t shake the feeling that, in certain of its revelations, the book wants to be a tell-all ... Most effectively, though, Parisian Lives is a testament to Bair’s strength. Putting aside the book’s structural unevenness as well as the author’s unconscious, compulsive hokiness and reductive binaries, one cannot deny that Bair is perseverant: even when silent in the face of blatant misogyny, she does not give up. Her uncanny courage makes it hard to hold her failings against her, and thus hard to hold them against the book in which she explores her harrowing, transformative journey.
Bair presents an exhaustive report of a seemingly endless list of literary notables she met and ate with and puzzled over, as she tracked down the inner and outer lives of Beckett and de Beauvoir (who, we are told, despised each other) ... Bair settles some scores and remains moot on a few issues of interest in the literary world in a narrative that will hold the most appeal for Beckett and de Beauvoir aficionados.
...a memorable read that will be celebrated extensively both by the general reading public but also by anyone associated with the theater, as well as those fascinated by or working in any aspect of the writing process ... Parisian Lives is extremely readable; you feel you know areas of Paris as well as she does, and she writes with evocative detail ... powerful and heartfelt ... The gift Bair gives us in Parisian Lives is a direct and knowing contemplation of the works of two literary giants—and the circumstances of their lives as they were written. Her memoir radiates that same honesty about her life and work.
It is readers' good fortune that things didn't go smoothly for Bair while writing these first two books; otherwise there would be no Parisian Lives, a fabulous hybrid (Bair dubs it a 'bio-memoir') containing elements of journalism, autobiography and dish ... When Samuel Beckett was published, some barbed reviews reflected what Bair came to realize was many male critics' discomfort with the notion of a female writer taking on a serious literary subject. (Fossilized thinking of this sort was a revelation to Bair, giving Parisian Lives yet another aspect: it chronicles her feminist awakening.)
What emerges instead of an addendum is a picture of the persistent sexism Bair encountered throughout her career ... Bair has a tendency to derail into detail, with a writing style that can charm but mostly grates. There’s a lack of rigour in Parisian Lives that is troubling from someone whose currency is accuracy: the book would have benefited from an index, and an assertion that Bair became a biographer when she was 'not yet thirty' does not square with the dates. Still, as a glimpse of the art of biography in a bygone era, the book is not without its pleasures ... Most importantly, Parisian Lives serves simultaneously a reminder of how far women have and have not come.
By turns scholarly and salacious, biographer Bair...has loosened decades of polite tongue-biting to write the backstory in what she calls a 'bio-memoir' of two influential writers. With humiliating candor, she admitted to a complete ignorance of how to write a biography when she approached Beckett in 1971 ... Bair’s exhaustively detailed and lively memoir also serves as a solid study in the art of biography.
In a candid and engrossing memoir, Bair creates unvarnished portraits of those two headstrong, demanding, and brilliant individuals as well as of her growth as a researcher, writer, and feminist ... Besides offering privileged views of her celebrated subjects, Bair reveals herself struggling with structure and style and negotiating a world of publishing and academia not welcoming to women. A rare, welcome look at the art and craft of biography.