Michael Morpurgo: Private Peaceful (2003) Literature and War Readalong May 2014

Private Peaceful

British author Michael Morpurgo is one of the most appreciated writers for Children. He was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005 and Writer in Residence at the Savoy Hotel in 2007. He won many prizes for his fiction.

Tommo Peaceful is the narrator of Private Peaceful. He begins his story at five past ten in the evening, after everyone else has left him. He awaits the next day with anxiety but he doesn’t want any company or distraction. He wants to spend the night thinking about his life. The chapters are all given a specific time and each intro to the chapter describes briefly Tommo’s surroundings and his state of mind. After the intro Tommo tells us in flashbacks his story, from the idyllic childhood in the English countryside to the trenches of WWI.

Tommo is one of three boys. At the age of nine his father dies in an accident and Tommo feels responsible for his death. Although he and his older brother Charlie are very close, he never mentions what happened in the woods, the day their father dies. They have an older brother Big Joe who had Meningitis as a child. He can’t go to school and is easily agitated but they are still very fond of him.

Their father’s death marks a transition from a carefree life to a life of some hardship. They are at the mercy of the Colonel in whose cottage they live. The cottage is tied to a function and after the death of the father, who was the forester, they would have to leave. The Colonel’s estate is big and many people and families work for him and so Tommo’s mother is offered a position at the big house, and they can stay in the cottage.

The years go by and there is happiness and heartache in equal measures. When WWI breaks out, they don’t think they are affected. Tommo is only 16 and Charlie, who is two years older, doesn’t think of volunteering but in the end they are forced. Although Tommo is too young, he doesn’t want to abandon Charlie and pretends he’s older. Finally they are shipped to France together. From there they move on to Belgium and stay near Ypres for the following months.

They don’t see any action at first but eventually they come under heavy fire. From then on we get an impression of everything that was typical or important during WWI: trench warfare, mustard gas, rats, rain, mud, high numbers of casualties among men and horses, arbitrariness of orders, sadism of the high command, absurdity of it all . . . While it’s usually key to show but not tell, Morpurgo often tells but doesn’t show. He stays away from graphic descriptions or anything that you could call gruesome. We still get the horror because we see how it affects Tommo. Most of the time, we just don’t get to see what he sees. I think that’s a great way to go in a Children’s book.

What works particularly well in the book is the contrast between the childhood and teenage years and the war scenes. Morpurgo takes a lot of time to introduce us to his characters and to make us care for them. While some of the secondary characters are a bit stereotypical, the main characters Charlie and Tommo are well-developed. Their relationship is very close and they would give everything for each other.

As I wrote in the introduction to this month, I was particularly interested to see how a Children’s author would handle a WWI book from the point of view of a soldier. I think Michael Morpurgo did an admirable job. I’m sure, children will get a good impression for the particularities of WWI. And they will care for the characters and feel deeply about the end. For an adult reader who has read some very similar books for adults – Strange Meeting and How Many Miles to Babylon come to mind – it was not exactly a huge revelation, but in spite of that, I found the twist at the end harrowing.

Other reviews

Danielle (A Work in Progress)

 Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)


Private Peaceful is the fifth book in the Literature and War Readalong 2014. The next book is the WWI novel Fear – La Peur by Gabriel Chevallier. Discussion starts on Friday 27 June, 2014. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including the book blurbs can be found here.

Deirdre Madden: Molly Fox’s Birthday (2008)

Molly Fox's Birthday

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by a new-to-me author and felt like reading everything she’s ever written. I have Guy to thank for the discovery of Irish writer Deirdre Madden. When he reviewed her novel Time Present and Time Past (here’s the link) I knew right away this would be a book I’d love to read. When I looked at her other novels Molly Fox’s Birthday tempted me even more.

Molly Fox’s Birthday is set in Dublin and tells about one day in the life of the narrator, a playwright and best friend of Molly Fox. Molly is a much-admired, famous theatre actress. She’s spending some time away from Ireland and she and her friend swap apartments. While the narrator stays in Dublin, Molly will be staying at her apartment in London.

The narrator has just started a new play and tries to overcome a severe case of writers’ block. Instead of writing, she spends the day thinking back on her life and her friendship with Molly and their mutual best friend Andrew. One little thing leads to another, one thought leads to the next. While not a lot happens during that day – the narrator goes shopping, Andrew drops in, a stranger rings the doorbell – we see the richness of a complex life unfold. A life that is as much rooted in Irish history as in the love for theater and acting. The different elements all lead to an in-depth exploration of many other themes: religion, friendship, family, acting, reality, dreams, authenticity.

I liked how she shows the world of the theater from different sides. The side of the playwright, the side of the actor, the view from a fan, and how she draws parallels. Her own brother is a priest and a lot of what he’s doing, when preaching, is acting as well. One strand of thoughts circles around how much any person acts and how much someone can ever know an actor. Until the end of the book, Molly stays an enigma. Just like she hates celebrating her birthday, she hates talking about her feelings and withdraws into her acting if someone comes too close. This doesn’t mean Molly doesn’t reveal herself. Her apartment which is carefully decorated allows a glimpse into her soul.

While the narrator thinks about this, we realize that one of the reasons why Molly, Andrew and the narrator are such close friends, is that they share this reservation. As rich and detailed as their inner lives are, they are not very explicit people and are interested in what is left unsaid, maybe more than in what is said. In the end, when someone like Molly decides to talk – it can always be to reveal something or to hide even more. She may always play a role. But that’s true of many people, only actors are much better at selling the idea of themselves they want others to buy.

It’s hard to do a book like this justice because it’s so complex and multi-layered. And because I loved it so much.

A few quotes may help to give you a better impression.

There are forms of communication that drive people apart, that do nothing other than confirm distance. But there are also instances when no connection seems to be made and yet something profound takes place, and this was just such a moment.

My hunger for the stage at that time was intense in a way I now find somewhat alarming. I watched plays with the kind of voracity with which small children read books; with the same visceral passion, the same complete trust in the imagination which is so difficult to sustain throughout the course of one’s whole life.

Here is one of Molly’s fans telling the narrator why the theater and someone like Molly who brings so much authenticity to the stage is important in her life.

You’re locked into this iron routine, cooking and shopping and cleaning, saying things to people and them saying things back to you, and none of it meaning anything, all of it pointless. Maybe it has to do with getting older, I don’t know, I feel like I’m sleepwalking through the years, but I want to wake up. Reality, you know? Why is it so hard to find? And why do so many people not seem to notice this? Why don’t hey care? Yes, I did go to see The Duchess, and all of this was very much on my mind that particular evening. I was worn down with it all, I felt stultified. And then the play – well, Molly Fox in particular, she was electrifying. All that dullness, that unreality I’m talking about, she blew a whole through it with language, with that voice of hers; i wa like an explosion going of in your soul.

Of course, since this book is the story of one day, set in Dublin, and one of the main protagonists is called Molly, we are reminded of Ulysses. I didn’t try to dig deeper, but the connection seems pretty obvious.

Molly Fox’s Birthday is a wonderful celebration of the interior life, art, theatre, friendship and it’s an exploration of how daily life, despite the struggles, doesn’t have to turn into something dull and devoid of authenticity. There’s always meaning, you just have to look for it.

On Some Short Stories by Romain Gary


Romain Gary was a Jewish-French novelist, film director, World War II aviator and diplomat. He also wrote under the pen name Émile Ajar. He’s the only author who won the Prix Goncourt twice. Once as Romain Gary for The Roots of Heaven (Les racines du ciel) and the second time as Emile Ajar for Life Before Us aka Madame Rosa (La Vie Devant Soi). 

Romain Gary would have been 100 years old on May 8. That’s why Emma has organized a Romain Gary Month on her blog Book Around the Corner. She’d announced it a while back and I knew I wanted to participate, only I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough time. The books that really interested me were a bit too long. So I did something you should not do when it comes to reading – I settled for a compromise. In this case it meant reading a collection of short stories, knowing well that they would never equal his novels.

It was still an interesting experience as the stories and fragments have been written between 1935 and 1970. Mostly they were written in French but two longer pieces were originally written in English. Gary wrote in both languages and also translated his own work. Or, as Emma wrote in one of her posts, he rewrote them in the other language. The collection shows not only the development of an author but also his wide range. Unfortunately most of the stories and fragments collected here are less than stellar. Notably the two early stories, written at the age of 20, whiff of epigonism.  Both L’Orage (1935) and Une petite femme ( 935) are set in the tropics and I found them to be examples of exoticism. I don’t think that Gary had been in any of the places described at that time. It seems both stories are influenced by Malraux. I was also reminded of Conrad. While I found that exoticism dubious, I liked the way they were told. At this early age, Gary was already well aware how to tell a story. And while both endings are predictable, there’s still very good pacing and build-up.

The other stories written in French are far more original and poignant. Two of them are quite chilling. Géographie humaine (1943) and Sergent Gnama (1946) are inspired by Gary’s own experience as a pilot during WWII and his experience of colonial France. The first – Human Geography – tells the story of a few men reminiscing. Each place they mention equals someone being shot down, wounded or killed. Sergeant Gnama tells the story of an African boy who sings a French song although he can’t speak French. It’s seems he’s learned it from a man called Sergeant Gnama – a ghost in other words.

The Jaded (1970) and The Greek (1970) were the two pieces originally written in English. While The Greek is a fragment and a bit hard to get into, The Jaded is a great, pessimistic and sarcastic story. A man spends his final hours in a place eating burgers. Later he will be shot. He knows this because he’s ordered his own assassination. He thinks he has lost his interest in life but during these hours it seems to be reawakened. If you want to know whether or not he’ll die in the end, you’ll have to read the story.

While this collection wasn’t all that great, I’d like to recommend Gary because he’s a great novelist and for those who love biography, it’s worth reading about this chameleon of a man. David Bellos has written a Gary biography  Gary: A Tall Man that looks interesting. Here’s the blurb

Airman, war hero, immigrant, law student, diplomat, novelist and celebrity spouse, Romain Gary had several lives thrust upon him by the history of the twentieth century, but he also aspired to lead many more. He wrote more than two dozen books and a score of short stories under several different names in two languages, English and French, neither of which was his mother tongue. Gary had a gift for narrative that endeared him to ordinary readers, but won him little respect among critics far more intellectual than he could ever be. His varied and entertaining writing career tells a different story about the making of modern literary culture from the one we are accustomed to hearing. Born Roman Kacew in Vilna (now Lithuania) in 1914 and raised by only his mother after his father left them, Gary rose to become French Consul General in Los Angeles and the only man ever to win the Goncourt Prize twice.

 This biography follows the many threads that lead from Gary’s wartime adventures and early literary career to his years in Hollywood and his marriage to the actress Jean Seberg. It illuminates his works in all their incarnations, and culminates in the tale of his most brilliant deception: the fabrication of a complex identity for his most successful nom de plume, Émile Ajar.

In his new portrait of Gary, David Bellos brings biographical research together with literary and cultural analysis to make sense of the many lives of Romain Gary – a hero fit for our times, as well as his own.

I know that quite a few readers of this blog love memoir as much as I do. Gary’s memoir Promise at DawnLa promesse de l’aube is highly acclaimed. Vishy just reviewed it here.

If you’d like some more recommendations – Emma has posted many suggestions on her blog.

Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth (1905)

The House of Mirth

It took me far over two months to decide whether I wanted to review The House of Mirth or not. For some reasons, I found this book profoundly disturbing.

While reading  The House of Mirth I felt like I was watching a fly getting trapped in a spider’s web. At first, when they notice that they are trapped, they wiggle frantically, hoping to be able to free themselves but, in doing so, entangle themselves even more. Comparing the stunningly beautiful Lily Bart to a fly isn’t doing her any justice, but the way she’s trapped by the society she lives in, and the way in which she tries to free herself, is not much different from the poor fly. I’m still a bit shocked. I knew nothing about The House of Mirth and to find that Lili Bart is just as tragic – maybe even more so – as Effi Briest or Mme Bovary (only without the adultery), came as a huge surprise.

Lily Bart comes from a formerly rich family who has lost everything, Her parents are dead and Lily depends on a rich aunt and her friends. She spends a lot of time at her aunt’s New York home or at the country houses of her friends, on the Hudson. Lily is lucky; she’s stunningly beautiful and people like to adorn their parties and evenings with her. She is also a great conversationalist. Everyone is sure she is going to marry rich but the years go by, Lily is already 29, and she still hasn’t settled.

At the beginning of the novel, she meets the lawyer Lawrence Selden. Lily clearly fancies him but since he’s not rich, she doesn’t think of getting married to him. Accidentally meeting at the train station is surprising for both of them and it triggers something reckless in Lily. She spontaneously decides to follow him home for a cup of tea. Something that would be of no consequences nowadays sets in motion Lily’s downfall and shows how much it costs her at all times to play by the rules. The visit is harmless enough. Lily and Selden chat and speak about mutual acquaintances. The tragedy is set in motion because Lily bumps into someone on her way out and abashedly lies about where she’s been. What follows is a series of bad decisions (on Lily’s side) and shameless exploitation, petty jealousy and revenge (on the society’s side). The story has a lot in common with a Greek tragedy in which the heroes fail inevitably.

As much as some elements of the plot shocked me, I loved this book. The prose is luminous, the descriptions are masterful. I went over many passages repeatedly, before moving forward. The book is written from different points of view, each adding another element, another voice. Selden’s passages are analytical, while Lily’s are far more descriptive and atmospheric.

I found Lily Bart one of the most interesting fictional characters because she’s such a bundle of contradictions and – in many ways – her own worst enemy. At least in the beginning. From a 21st Century perspective one is tempted to condemn her at first. But her upbringing really didn’t equip her for an independent life. She has examples of people around her who are independent, but they are outside of the society whose member Lily wishes to stay. Still, they could inspire her and they do eventually, only by then it’s too late then. What makes Lily endearing, is the way she self-sabotages herself constantly, because these acts of sabotage show that she’s not that corrupted, that she actually despises the society she lives in.

The biggest shock is to see how especially women contribute to Lily’s undoing and how much they relish watching her going down. The House of Mirth is an illustration that – I hate to say this – as long as women actively contribute to undermine, discredit and harm other women – out of jealousy or envy – there will never be true gender equality.

I’ve read The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome and Mme de Treymes, three very different books, which are all great, but none of them quite equals The House of Mirth. I’m pretty sure, I will re-read it. Now that I know the story, I’ll be enjoying the writing even more.

C.E. Lawrence: Silent Screams (2009) Lee Campbell Series 1

Silent Screams

C.E. Lawrence is the byline of the New York-based writer, performer, composer, poet and playwright Carole Buggé. The first time I came across her name was when I was reading a Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (#7 2012). The magazine contained one of Carole’s short stories The Way it Is and an interview with C.E.Lawrence titled The darker half of Carole Buggé. I enjoyed the story and found the interview extremely fascinating. Thanks to the interview I learned that while Carole Buggé has written cozy mysteries and Sherlock Holmes novels, C.E.Lawrence explores the darker side of crime, sending her main protagonist, profiler Lee Campbell, after nasty serial killers. When I discovered that the multi-talent Carole Buggé gave an online course in mystery writing, I signed up. It was instructive and great fun. During the course we “spoke” about setting and when Carole mentioned that New York was as much a character in her novels as Lee Campbell, I picked up Silent Screams, the first in the series.

I’ve read a fair amount of non-fiction on serial killers, watched a few movies and TV shows, but I’ve never read a novel in which a profiler was the main character. I was curious to see how she’d pull it off. It’s a favourite theme in TV series; adding something new, seemed quite difficult.

She’s pulled it off admirably well because she added two new things. The first is her character, psychologist Lee Campbell. He’s a troubled soul, who, after a breakdown, has spent time in a psychiatric hospital because of depression. When the book starts, he functions but is still not exactly stable. His friend and colleague doubts he’s ready to take on a big case, but Lee feels he must as the dead girl they find shows the signs of ritualistic murder. As I said before, C.E. Lawrence added two new things and the second is tied to the first. Her novels are set in New York and the way she describes it is detailed and fascinating. It shows an insider’s perspective that hasn’t a lot to do with the cliché New York we’ve come to know through movies. Additionally she’s set the book at a special moment in time: a few months after 9/11. And that’s when we understand Lee’s breakdown. He may have been depressed before – some elements of family history we read about may explain it – but 9/11 triggers the breakdown. I don’t think that I’ve ever read a book, which managed to make me experience some of the horror 9/11 must have been for those who lived in New York. At times I forgot this is a crime novel because I was so captivated by the descriptions.

While Lee battles his demons and moves through a traumatized city, the “Slasher”, as they have come to call him, kills another girl. And another one. Early on, Lee himself is targeted as well. It’s that story line in particular that I found gripping. Why would a serial killer target a profiler from the very beginning? Did he have something to do with the disappearance of Lee’s sister a few years ago?

Readers of this blog know that I don’t like frantic pacing. I was very glad that this novel only picked up speed after the first third and even then, it was anything but frantic.

Overall this was an enjoyable read. It had a few flaws – occasionally too much explaining – but they didn’t bother me. What I found really intriguing – other than the amazing way she explored the time and setting – was that this thriller, despite its darkness, had many elements of a cozy mystery: great atmosphere, careful descriptions, likable characters and a laid-back pace. Due to the end, which I won’t spoil here, of course, I’m very curious to see what case Lee will have to solve next and am going to read book two Silent Victim soon.

If you’d like to read some of Carole’s shorter fiction – one of her stories can be found in the anthology Vengeance: Mystery Writers of America Presents, edited by Lee Child.

Her books have been translated into Germand and French.

Sarah Moss: Bodies of Light (2014)

Bodies of Light

In January I read Sarah Moss’ first novel Cold Earth (here is the review). I liked it but had some minor reservations. I wasn’t sure how good a writer she really was. After having read her latest book, Bodies of Light, I think it’s safe to say that she’s evolved from a promising writer to an accomplished one.

I didn’t look at the author’s name when I saw the book at the book shop the other day. What caught my attention was the beautiful cover that reminded me of a Victorian wallpaper. As soon as I opened it, I discovered that they had used the same endpaper inside. When I read the blurb, I saw how fitting this was, as Sarah Moss has set her third novel in Victorian Manchester and London. This might not have been enough for me to buy the book, but I started browsing and what struck me was how often colors and light were mentioned. I did something I don’t do that often; I bought the book and started reading it right away.

The novel did keep its promise; it has a lot of a William Morris wallpaper. The descriptions and the writing are gorgeous. But what is really arresting is the combination and range of topics.

Bodies of Light tells the story of two generations of women. Elizabeth is married to the designer and painter Alfred Moberley. Beauty is most important to him. He pays attention to color and light, to fabrics and interior decoration, to every single detail in a furniture, wallpaper or painting. Elizabeth is quite different. She likes it sober. She doesn’t want to wear expensive, colorful clothes. Her mother taught her that she has to be modest at all times because there are so many poor women who have nothing. This strict, severe upbringing, in which every single minute is dedicated to helping the poor, has turned Elizabeth into a joyless creature. And she’s ill-equipped for motherhood. She hates being pregnant and once the girl is born she hates her and can hardly be forced to take care of her. On the other hand, her mother taught her to despise the ways of the rich. A nanny is out of the question. Whenever her husband, who is a kind man, wants to take care of Ally and pampers the child, Elizabeth tells him off. It’s easy to understand why this marriage isn’t a happy one.

May is born after Ally. While she will be treated in very strict ways as well, she will not be abused. Abuse is the ugly secret in the Moberly household. Ally is her mother’s mirror and instrument. Her mother mishandles and punishes her and forces her to become successful. What she calls strict is nothing bud thinly veiled sadism.

In spite of this – or because of this – Ally will become one of the first women doctors. When it’s time for her to study, she will leave Manchester and go to live in London. She’s learned from an early age that others have less, that women are mistreated and it seems natural for her to dedicate her life to the cause of women. But her family, especially her mother, looms like a dark shadow over her head. The question is – will she be able to free herself and find happiness?

The summary may seem gloomy and the parts dedicated to Ally’s upbringing, the many cruelties she had to endure on a daily basis, made me choke, but the book contains so much beauty. I liked how complex all the characters are. Even Ally’s mother, Elizabeth. She’s doing a lot of good, helping the poor selflessly, at the same time, she unleashes her sadistic impulses on her daughter. It’s something that we hear occasionally. A person famous for his/her altruism, is a tyrant, bully or even a sadist at home.

A major topic is women’s fight for the right to higher education, their fight to become doctors. The scenes at the hospital are quite drastic. Ally specializes in gynaecology at first but then discovers her interest in psychiatry.

At times it was shocking to see that, while we’ve come a long way, women still fight for many of the things they fought for in the 19th Century. Conflicting emotions about motherhood, for example, are still more or less taboo.

Bodies of Light is a remarkable book. The writing is taut and stylish and full of luminous descriptions. The topics range from art to motherhood, from medicine to women’s history, from psychiatry to abuse and, finally, to healing. The greatest accomplishment however, is that the opposing themes and characters of the novel are mirrored in the writing. The writing is at times pithy, at times lavish. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking book from a very assured writer. We can look forward to her next books.

Claire Tomalin: Jane Austen – A Life (1997)

Jane Austen

Last year I was in a Jane Austen mood for several months. I read the last of her novels I hadn’t read, watched movie adaptations, and even picked up the one or the other book inspired by her. Finally I also read Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen biography, which I’ve finished a while ago.

Jane Austen – A Life isn’t only an excellent biography, it’s very moving as well. There isn’t all that much we know about Jane Austen but Tomalin wrote about what little we know with so much empathy and compassion that, at times, I couldn’t help but feel deeply for Jane Austen. When you read a biography you’re never sure what you will get. Some biographers are too present in the book or, what is even worse, some seem not to like their chosen subject at all. I’m glad none of this was the case here. I felt Tomalin approached Jane Austen with a lot of admiration and sympathy.

It’s hard to review a biography and do it justice, especially when it’s so carefully done, including every aspect of an author’s life. There were chapters I devoured, others, like those on the Austen neighbours, were a bit dragging. Overall however this is a wonderful biography and I could feel on every page how much passion and dedication Tomalin put into the book.

Since the book is so comprehensive, I’d like to pick just a few elements and write about those.

Tomalin, as I just wrote, is a very compassionate biographer, which made her detect things that are never explicitly stated in the testimonies or letters. She writes that seen from outside one might think that Jane Austen had a happy childhood and an unproblematic life, but when you look more closely, it becomes apparent, that there was a lot of heartache and sorrow. Tomalin mentions for example that all the Austen children were given away for up to 18 months when they were just a few months old. They grew up in the village with a wet-nurse. This means that by the age of three, they had experienced two traumatic events. First they had to leave the mother and later they were ripped from the family they hade come to see as their own.

The movie Becoming Jane, gives the wrong impression with regard to Jane Austen’s siblings. She had only one sister, but more than one brother, and because the parents had a school for boys, she and her sister grew up among many other boys. Unfortunately, because  it was a boy’s school, the two sisters had to leave the family again and go to boarding school. This, it seems, was another traumatic event as the school was quite terrible.

When I watched Becoming Jane, I wondered, like so many others, how much of the love story was true. Why did Jane Austen never get married? Was she too heartbroken and could never get over Tom Lefroy? After reading Tomalin, I have the impression that the love story which is told in the movie, is quite close to reality. There was no elopement and, as I already mentioned, Jane had more than one brother, but the depiction of the unhappy love story between her and the Irishman Tom Lefroy is pretty accurate. She had more opportunities later in life but she turned all her suitors down. She didn’t have any feelings for them.

Jane and her sister Cassandra were very close and spent their whole lives together. Seeing how many of the women around them were either constantly pregnant or died in childbed, staying single must have been some consolation to them.

I wasn’t aware that Jane Austen stopped writing for almost ten years. The chapters on this silence are by far the most tragic and interesting. One could think that the cause for her silence was small, but for Jane Austen it was a catastrophe. She loved the house in the country in which she grew up and when her parents decided to sell it – without telling Jane or her sister anything about the decision, until it was executed – she was devastated. She didn’t want to move to Bath. She didn’t like it and the house would be much smaller. There would be no garden, and no possibility to be close to nature. The impact of this move was so intense that she became depressed, shut down and didn’t write anymore. I guess it was more than just the loss of the garden though. She had a certain routine, and lack of space would prevent that she could withdraw herself from company as easily as before.

Jane Austen died quite young and, according to Tomalin, it’s not entirely clear what illness she had. Some attempts at a retrospective diagnosis have been made. She might have died from Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma or bovine tuberculosis. In any case, the deterioration was slow and she suffered for more than a year before she died.

The biography contains a lot more, of course. I focussed on the tragedies of her life, but Tomalin writes extensively about the books and the influence Jane Austen’s reading had on her writing. Dr Johnson is mentioned for example and that many of Austen’s famous sentences have been inspired by him.

At the end of her biography Tomalin writes about Jane Austen:

“She is as elusive as a cloud in the night sky.” (287)

That’s exactly how I felt when I closed the book. As if I’d been watching a shadow theater. It’s the first time, I close a biography and it leaves me this sad.