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A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the…

A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash

by Alexander Masters

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148 diaries are found in a skip by two friends of the author of this book, Alexander Masters. They are penned by someone who is obviously a prolific diarist and when, eventually, they find their way into the hands of Masters, he is fascinated by them and the anonymous person who wrote them.

A Life Discarded looks at what Masters knows about the diarist from what he has read, and from what he, in time, finds out. Some parts of the book are really interesting, but ultimately I felt the book was lacking a spark, something that could have made me as fascinated as the author clearly was. Overall though, I enjoyed reading it. ( )
  nicx27 | Jul 13, 2016 |
  TheIdleWoman | Jul 1, 2016 |
Simply Mind blowing.

I mean: how do you classify this? It is, as it happens, a biography, yet there were many times when I wondered if I was being drawn into an elaborate philosophico-literary hoax, sort of Ern Malley meet Jostein Gaarder. But it isn’t. It is a biography, based on 148 diaries found in a skip.

Or it's a musing, on the biographer’s art. Or is it a science? No, clearly it’s an art, but then: so is science. Or physics is. Maths is just dull. Masters provides us both insights. The subject of the biography, on the other hand, isn’t dull. She is “I” for a long time, leaving a sort of Dylanesque “I and I” love triangle between Masters and Me and Her. Well in fact she isn’t ever “her” for a while, until she gets her menstrual period. That tends to indicate that she is. But nothing is certain in this perichoretic dance of truth. I becomes Not-Mary, then Laura, and eventually becomes Laura Francis – Laura Penrose Francis, in fact. She certainly isn’t dull. Or she is, if degrees of dull are measured by headlines and column inches and pixels. But they aren’t. Perhaps, as Masters suggests (303) she is “deafened by solipsism.” But she isn’t, and Masters tells us that to, yet again, demonstrate how conjectural the biographer’s art is. And he should know, because this is his third biography. So what does this say about his first and second biographies?

Indeed does it say anything? Does it simply admit that we are all solipsistic, subjective, centres of our own universe? If it does, then Laura Penrose Francis is a hero, because, inadvertently, she tells us something about ourselves. I say that not merely because I too am a diarist, trapped in Sisyphean self-importance, desperately hoping there is some purpose to my self-absorption or even my life, but because while Laura tells us of her own self-importance it transpires that, in the end, she is rather modest and unpretentious, far, far removed from the narcissism of a Johnny Depp or a Justin Bieber.

In any case, is this about Laura at all? Certainly it’s not about Alexander Masters, except insofar as it is about his utter fallibility. Perhaps it’s a tribute to Richard Grove, who mooched around Cambridge with his shirt hanging out, but whose life becomes restricted to a wheelchair? Or is it about Dido Davies, whose life is restricted by neuroendocrine cancer of the pancreas until she becomes not alive, not about at all? None of us see around the next corner, after all … but Laura told us about the most recent corner, and summonsed Haydn, Beethoven, Mussolini, Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and a myriad ghosts and chimera along the way. ( )
  zappa | Jun 29, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0008130779, Hardcover)

Unique, transgressive and as funny as its subject, A Life Discarded has all the suspense of a murder mystery. Written with his characteristic warmth, respect and humour, Masters asks you to join him in celebrating an unknown and important life left on the scrap heap. A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation. A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as 'I', is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful. Part thriller, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers' obsessions: of 'I's need to record every second of life and of Masters' pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 18 Feb 2016 06:26:30 -0500)

"An unorthodox investigative literary biography of a mysterious graphomaniac whose nearly 150 diaries are rescued from a dumpster by the author"--

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