It takes a good biography to drag me away from my beloved novels and I'm pleased to say that this is a very good biography. It's not speculative or gushing or overly academic.
It follows Dodie's life from adored only child to flamboyant but untalented actress to extrovert saleswoman at Heals furniture store to successful playwright and novelist. Along the way she has an affair with her boss at Heals, marries Alex who is seven years her junior, moves to America during the war years because her husband is a pacifist and forms lifelong friendships with renowned actors, playwrights and directors.
And of course in 1934 she was given her first Dalmatian puppy, Pongo, the first in a succession of energetic, lovable (and destructive!) Dalmatians who inspired her most famous book.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on I Capture the Castle written when she was living in exile in America and homesick for England. Interestingly, she believed that Cassandra represented her girlhood self but when her ex-lover read it he thought that Topaz was very like Dodie.
There are some lovely anecdotes. One New Year's Eve, her husband went to bed early so Dodie crossed her Dalmatian's paws and sang Old Lang Syne with her dog!
Valerie Grove's portrayal of Dodie Smith as an extrovert with a generous heart who, more than anything, wanted to write and to write well is a must-read. Of course, I now want to re-read I Capture the Castle.