Styled a ``biographical novel,'' narrated by Bedford in the first person, and ``true to life . . . give or take a novelist's margins,'' the engrossing story of Bedford's early years and coming of age might just as well have been called a memoir. ``The Kislings and the Aldous Huxleys are . . . themselves; my mother and I are a percentage of ourselves,'' she writes in an author's note. The reason for clothing her story in fiction is her tact and delicacy in portraying the characters she calls the Falkenheims, the Nairns and the Desmirails, in order not to be ``hurtful'' to their descendants. Those who read Bedford's novel The Legacy will find echoes here, but this narrative has a more immediate effect, because the reader realizes that only a thin scrim comes between the facts of Bedford's life and their fictional rendering. Bedford (Billi here) was the product of an eccentric, unstable upbringing. Raised by her father in the Grand Duchy of Baden when her irresponsible, charismatic mother runs off with a lover; then, when she is 12, plunged into a vagabond existence shuttling between her mother in Italy and a penurious family in England to whom she is consigned, Billi becomes independent and precociously sophisticated before she reaches adolescence. Though her formal education is sketchy, her intellectual maturation occurs early on, as does her conviction that writing is to be her metier. Richly buttressed with details of social history, regional color and the artistic and literary scene of the '20s and '30s, the narrative gathers intensity as Billi discloses her mother's morphine addiction and the tragic vicissitudes endured by her London friends. In the end, one feels that Bedford has achieved the qualities writers long for: ``the translation from experience into art.'' (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1989 Release date: 04/01/1989 Genre: Fiction
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