cover image Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir

Deirdre Bair. Nan A. Talese, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54245-6

By turns scholarly and salacious, biographer Bair (Samuel Beckett) has loosened decades of polite tongue-biting to write the backstory in what she calls a “bio-memoir” of two influential writers. With humiliating candor, she admitted to a complete ignorance of how to write a biography when she approached Beckett in 1971 and obtained his promise to “neither help nor hinder you.” Interviewing those in his social circle, Bair discovered that by “compartmentalizing people,” Beckett pitted them against each other, each currying favor and reporting back to him on her research. She struggled to fund research and travel, balance her obligations as a wife and mother, and write. Upon publication in 1978, her Beckett biography was disparaged by several critics—some of whom accused her of trading sex for access; it eventually won a National Book Award. Bair refused offers to write another biography, until 1980, when a colleague suggested she write one of Simone de Beauvoir. Theirs was a more cordial relationship, marred only when Beauvoir grew cold and dropped “the Lucite curtain” to avoid uncomfortable topics. Beauvoir’s death in 1986 propelled Bair into an extensive rewrite, delaying publication another four years. No matter her subject, Bair, a generous and graceful writer, has followed her dictum in writing biographies: “those of us who wrote literary biographies should ensure that our readers ended our books by wanting to turn immediately to our subjects’ writing.” Bair’s exhaustively detailed and lively memoir also serves as a solid study in the art of biography. [em](Nov.) [/em]