17 Mar 2010
A collection of three different works: IM’s diary of a roaming theatre production just before the outbreak of WWII, her letters to Frank Thompson and those to David Hicks, during the war.
The diary is very sweet – it’s earnest and young but retains our interest and has a value that not all juvenalia have. For an IM fan, it’s lovely to see her relatively unencumbered, enjoying singing and acting and stretching herself, and also being very funny and a good or not so good friend.
Both sets of letters can make uncomfortable reading at times. While she doesn’t, in my opinion, look foolish, IM does lay her emotions bare in what were, presumably, private letters not intended for publication. Especially in those to David Hicks, she is reduced to begging him to write and sending honest thoughts which she then slightly regrets. But who among us, especially when young, hasn’t said things to a lover one would rather not have said, or embarassed ourselves a little. The last letter in the Hicks sequence is quite painfully controlled and mature, and made me feel sad on reading it, even though I knew the story of their relationship from other reading. But still, in both sets of letters you get a developing writer, thrilled to come across Simone de Beauvoir and to meet Satre, trying to learn to ski, failing at being a good administrator. And, while I vigorously subscribed to the Death of the Author theory at University, to avoid having to do much secondary reading, I did enjoy seeing the roots of her civil servants and complex love affairs with which we become so familiar when reading her novels.
A minor point, but one which did affect my reading of the book: the footnotes. Some of the actual notes seemed a little strained. Who needs the word "somnambulist" explaning? And there were some [sic]s in the text which seemed a little inconsistent, pointing out some errors and not others. Worse, was the actual proof-reading of the footnotes. On several occasions, footnotes which should have run onto the next page broke off, with the rest of the note nowhere to be found. Particularly irritatingly, this happens to the note at the end of the Frank letters – the letter itself breaks off, as we know, and then the footnote reads: "Final page missing: how Frank signed off his last letter we will probably never"! And notes appear on the page next to the one on which the footnoted text appears, which I’ve never seen before. In fact, on the final page of the book, instructions for contacting the publisher end: "Please quote ref. ‘Short Books", i.e. missing the final quotation mark! I know it’s niggly, but this did spoil my reading of the text somewhat, as it disturbed the flow.
Apart from this, an interesting read and a valid addition to my Murdoch collection.