Abounding in gossip, satire, historical apercus, and trenchant observations, Vidal's narrative weaves back and forth in time, providing a whole view of the author's celebrated life, and featuring a cast of memorable characters—including the Kennedy family, Marlon Brando, Anais Nin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Brought so fascinatingly close to us, the Vidal world seems both exotic and domestic, glitzy and homely, and is presented with a deft economy that is itself highly droll ... Not only does Vidal have original things to say on many subjects but the reader feels himself becoming one with the characters in the book: a sure sign of a literary master at work ... His powers as novelist and writer, not only thoroughbred ones but gifts that are truly his own, are at their strongest in this search for the past which gives us his own family, his Gore grandfather in particular, and his love for Jimmie Trimble ... Every page of Palimpsest has some pleasurable absurdity, usually a good-natured one, that stays in the memory, and often with an aroma of poetry about it, as on the pages which return us at intervals to the author’s villa at Ravello, where the memoir is being written.
...there is motive for the little digs, the nasty gossip, the subtle put-downs that flavor so much of the book ... Actually, the reason for the cruelty in most cases is self-evidently one of revenge ... This somewhat oversimple psychology is reflected in the author's outlook on the world, the downside of which is a two-dimensional view of politics: America's only concern in fighting two world wars was imperial, and the country would have been better off remaining isolated; the cold war was a concoction of American military interests, to justify taxing the people for profits. The upside is a sort of unified-field theory of human baseness, which permits Mr. Vidal to write about everyone, including himself, with an amusing cynicism.
Vidal returns again and again to his contempt for the life of the American professional politician. He saw it up close when young. He saw it up close in the Kennedy era ... The finest and most revealing passages in Palimpsest, those which best synthesise the public and the personal, are the ones which treat of the Kennedy court. It’s a test of character whether one repudiates Camelot or not, and Vidal passes this test with all pennons flying ... This palimpsest, however much scored out and scribbled over, and however much a keening for the golden gone to dust, is nonetheless a record of the transmutation, of the base into the gold, that is the raw stuff of literature – and our slight and sardonic hope.