Sunday 11 November 2012

Truth and Beauty

'Lucy was writing, but it came in short bursts and the bursts weren't coming often enough to bring her up to the number of pages she needed.  In February she threw a congratulations, You've Wasted Half Your Fellowship party and everyone came and danced in her apartment and had a wonderful time.'
I've been absorbed in this poignant memoir about the friendship between Ann Patchett and the poet and writer Lucy Grealy which lasted from their meeting as aspiring young writers at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1985, throughout the publication of their respective books to Lucy's death in 2002.

Lucy suffered from cancer as a child which damaged her mouth and jaw and continually undergoes surgery to reshape her face.  Constantly in pain she suffers from depression and finds it difficult to sustain relationships with men.  She blames all of her problems on her face and although she is adored by her many friends who provide her with constant moral and financial support she is needy and demanding.

Lucy finds writing success before Ann, her book Autobiography of a Face becomes a bestseller and Lucy appears on Oprah and begins a round of book tours and interviews.  Adoring the high life she spends her next advance before the book is written and slowly descends into a spiral of missed deadlines, pain killers and continual operations to re-shape her face and teeth.

Ann's slow and steady approach to her writing career leads eventually to the huge success of Bel Canto in 2001.  Lucy dies of an overdose in 2002.

It must be said  that Lucy's sister opposed the portrayal of Lucy in Truth and Beauty.  Nevertheless I found this a haunting memoir about friendship, loss, art and literature. One of my favourite reads this year.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Alys, Always

You know I'm always looking for well-written contemporary fiction and most of the writers I like are American woman.  Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Curtis Sittenfeld, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich to name but a few.  So I was delighted to discover this little gem of a novel set firmly in and around London by the English writer Harriet Lane.

With more than a nod to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, this is the story of literary journalist Frances who happens upon a road accident where a dying woman exchanges a few words with her.  Frances can tell from the woman's 'cultured, expensive' voice that she is privileged and later discovers that she is the wife of a famous writer.

Frances then takes it upon herself to replace the dead wife and insert herself into the writer's life  although - as with all unreliable narrators - you can never be quite sure of her motives and whether she is really as cold-hearted as her actions convey.

There are wonderful descriptions of London and the gossipy, insular world of a literary magazine.  If you are looking for an autumnal read with a bit of a sting in the tale you may want to pick up a copy of Alys Always.