cover image Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography

Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography

P. D. James. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41066-6

James's fans will eagerly devour every word of this insightful and witty account of a year in the life of the master mystery author In the diary she began on her 77th birthday, in August 1997, James comfortably segues from daily activities into reminiscences about her childhood, early forays into writing and her career as a civil servant in Britain. She also weighs in on a variety of subjects, including the movie Titanic (the ""usual Hollywood anti-British bias"" irritated her), the publishing industry (promising novels are ""promoted, packaged, and sold like a new perfume"") and London's Millennial Dome, which inspired her ""Dome Pome"" (which begins, ""O Dome Gigantic, Dome immense/ Built in defiance of common sense""). James reveals herself to be proper, dignified and reserved, but she doesn't reveal much more: readers expecting a traditional diary or spilled secrets are bound to be dissatisfied, though they can't say they weren't warned; in her prologue, James announces that she'll neither rehash painful memories nor record ""the events of every day."" The painful memories no doubt relate to her late husband's long battle with mental illness, which she mentions often but never fully explores. It's just as well she sticks to the latter promise, for while many of her activities will interest a wide range of readers, there are times when her musings do little to contradict her claim that she is simply ""an elderly grandmother who writes traditional English detective fiction."" 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. 50,000 first printing. (Apr.)