cover image A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers

Michael Holroyd. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-11558-6

Master raconteur and biographer of Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey, the always elegant Holroyd is at the top of his game in the final installment of a trilogy (after Basil Street Blues and Mosaic)%E2%80%94sadly for the world of publishing, he says it is his swan song. In this dizzying group biography, relating to the significant women in the 60-year lifespan of Ernest Beckett (who died in 1917), second Lord Grimthorpe, Holroyd explores not only the well-known life of Violet Trefusis, the novelist and notorious lover of Vita Sackville-West, but also Alice Keppel, with whom Grimthorpe sired the illegitimate Trefusis; and Eve Fairfax, muse to Auguste Rodin, as well as Grimthorpe%E2%80%99s onetime fianc%C3%A9e (she lived to almost 107 without marrying). Much of the book is also devoted to the delicious ins and outs of the biographer%E2%80%99s art, in which Holroyd has few peers. Getting together with Gore Vidal in the novelist%E2%80%99s Italian aerie (which was built for one of Grimthorpe%E2%80%99s legitimate children) is just one of the highlights of guilty-pleasure name-dropping. Holroyd writes like an angel and memorably draws the rivulets of these fluid lives together. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Aug.)