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Publisher's Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin, read by Dame Penelope Wilton.

As one of the best biographers of her generation, Claire Tomalin has written about great novelists and poets to huge success. Now she turns to look at her own life.

This enthralling memoir follows her through triumph and tragedy in about equal measure, from the disastrous marriage of her parents and the often difficult wartime childhood that followed to her own marriage to the brilliant young journalist Nicholas Tomalin. When he was killed on assignment as a war correspondent, she was left to bring up their four children - and at the same time make her own career.

She writes of the intense joys of a fascinating progression as she became one of the most successful literary editors in London before discovering her true vocation as a biographer, alongside overwhelming grief at the loss of a child.

Writing with the élan and insight which characterize her biographies, Claire Tomalin sets her own life in a wider cultural and political context, vividly and frankly portraying the social pressures on a woman in the '50s and '60s and showing 'how it was for a European girl growing up in mid-20th-century England...carried along by conflicting desires to have children and a worthwhile working life.'

©2017 Claire Tomalin (P)2017 Penguin Books Ltd.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Rachel Redford
  • 09-22-17

Her autobiography as good as her biographies



Claire Tomalin’s strengths apparently come in industrial strength: a childhood steeped in culture (and parental disunity); a hugely developed intellect (her Cambridge First was inevitable); decades of success at a catalogue of high profile roles in literary journalism and editing; enormous energy and a capacity for prodigious and relentless hard work; five highly respected biographies (including Pepys & Mary Wollstonecraft)… And so it goes on.

These intellectual strengths have perhaps given her the dignified resilience in the face of tragedy. The death of her serially unfaithful husband Nicholas Tomalin when she was 40; the heart-breaking suicide of her exceptionally gifted golden daughter Susanna at the age of 22; a baby boy dead at 3 weeks (the coldest thing she’s ever touched); her only son disabled by spina bifida – just one of these would utterly destroy most of us. She describes the tragedies with elegance and not a shred of self-pity and her restrained treatment of bearing grief is extraordinarily moving.

But she does not want to be defined by these misfortunes. Work is her life-blood (‘Work Work Work’ is what drives her) and as she moves through her immensely successful career, her litany of friends and colleagues (and the frequent lists can be rather tedious) sounds like a Who’s Who of the literary world, sprung in large part from the inter-related network of high-flying Oxbridge graduates. But these names recreate the literary times.

Tomalin looks back on a working life spanning more than sixty years with all its social changes. That is interesting in itself, but her personal story (as in her biographies) makes the whole hugely involving. The story of her father coming to England and of the ultimately tragic marriage between him and Tomalin’s talented musician-composer mother would make a brilliant biography by itself. At 84 Tomalin says she’ll be beginning another book as soon as she’s finished this one. I’m sure she will – and I look forward to her finishing it.

Penelope Wilton is a highly appropriate reader with her perfect English voice, but I would have like a bit more vigour, a quality I imagine Tomalin possesses in spadefuls. The narration didn't need spadefuls, but just a little more vigour and variation.




8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Suswati
  • 11-29-17

A stunning memoir of a life well lived

A biographer's autobiography makes for fascinating reading. Claire Tomalin attempts to recount the past 84 years of her life to the best of her ability, revealing tragic losses without self-pity, and an enduring spirit.

From an unstable childhood, moving from place to place during the war, with her family living across several countries, to having an unstable marriage. She describes her unusual relationship with her first husband, the renowned journalist Nick Tomalin, who was killed while covering the Yom Kippur war in 1973. His constant fleeting from his family to other women, and abusive behaviour is dark and quite a difficult read. In this instance, Tomalin appears to be stuck in a pattern of staying with her abuser for the sake of her children, a common occurrence in the 1960's. In between the chaos of her life, she loses a baby only one month old and has another who is permanently disabled.

In the same way, the dark, inexplicable suicide of her youngest daughter is laid bare, but out of it comes a change of direction of life dimension as Claire's vocation as a literary biographer floods in to fill the gap. These are, ironically, the most touching and well-written scenes. Through her own writings of women such as Mary Wollstonecraft, and Charles Dickens' affair with Ellen Ternan, we see Tomalin's own creativity and resilience. She copes because she must, and because she can.

The literary name dropping is everywhere because it is woven into the huge patchwork quilt of her long life. The candour of her resentment for the Murdoch empire is matched by the awe and admiration she has for Harold Evans and her mother.

One of the final scenes, in which she describes her father's great grandchildren dancing unknowingly on the bed, where he himself lay dead in his coffin only hours before, encapsulates the spirit of this beautiful book. A truly wonderful look into her life.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nike
  • 10-30-17

Very Revelatory, and very enjoyable. Thank you.

Beautifully and lucidly written and spoken So enjoyed this book I could not stop listening for the length of it's revelations. Cannot agree with some last political pronounced summing up Standrad views which need examining and ualifying.Well contained but predictable from the provenance. But we fought the war for freedoms to disagree. I shall listen to this over and over again. A very attractive and creative woman.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Enobarbus
  • 03-30-18

Disappointing

What did you like best about A Life of My Own? What did you like least?

We get some sense of the period but Claire Tomalin writes far less well about her own life than she does, for example, when exploring the lives of Dickens and EllenTurnan. She's very inhibited when talking about herself and her friends which is understandable but begs the question of why wrote an autobiography?

Would you be willing to try another book from Claire Tomalin? Why or why not?

I've read most of her books and would recommend them all, except this one.

What aspect of Dame Penelope Wilton’s performance might you have changed?

Not much. It's a bit timid but that's probably fitting. The whole thing is terribly straight-laced.

Could you see A Life of My Own being made into a movie or a TV series? Who would the stars be?

No.

Any additional comments?

Curious that someone who writes so perceptively about others struggles to be frank about her own experiences.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • K. A. Mosedale
  • 03-04-18

Lovely story well told

A wonderfully enjoyable story and a beautiful insight into an interesting life. Lots of encounters with well known cultural figures but I never felt as if names were being dropped for the sake of it. it has joy and tragedy along with gentle humour. I enjoyed the narration and the only observation I would make is that just occasionally the edits were a little obvious with pauses a bit too short or long interrupting the flow.

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  • Helen Lee
  • 01-27-18

Review of outstanding autobiography

I loved this book because of the fascinating life Claire led and her knowledge of literature, past and present.. The tragic events and drama of her life stuck in my mind. The quality of her writing was superior to most autobiographies. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in literature. Truly remarkable and compelling. The quality of narration was good.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Catherine
  • 01-24-18

a real name-dropper! - in a good way

What made the experience of listening to A Life of My Own the most enjoyable?

the extraordinary cast of characters makes for a good read. There being so many famous people among the family's friends, it could all seem a bit show-off-y if it were not for Tomalin's straightforward and trustworthy style.

What did you like best about this story?

the author's steadfastness of propose in bring up a 'disabled' child.

How could the performance have been better?

the narrator's voice is frightfully posh. (I took the trouble to listen to the author herself; she isn't nearly so clipped!)

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

the author is remarkably un-self-pitying, indeed rather generous, especially to the dead!

Any additional comments?

I don't know of another excellent biographer who has such an absorbing autobiography to offer us.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful