A love story, a detective story, a book of secrets, a beautifully written journey into a forest of family trees.
After writing the definitive biographies of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, Michael Holroyd turned his hand to a more personal subject: his own family. The result was Basil Street Blues, published in 1999. But rather than the story being over, it was in fact only beginning. As letters from readers started to pour in, the author discovered extraordinary ...

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Mosaic: A Family Memoir Revisited

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A love story, a detective story, a book of secrets, a beautifully written journey into a forest of family trees.
After writing the definitive biographies of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, Michael Holroyd turned his hand to a more personal subject: his own family. The result was Basil Street Blues, published in 1999. But rather than the story being over, it was in fact only beginning. As letters from readers started to pour in, the author discovered extraordinary narratives that his own memoir had only touched on.Mosaic is Holroyd's piecing together of these remarkable stories: the murder of the fearsome headmaster of his school; the discovery that his Swedish grandmother was the mistress of the French anarchist Jacques Prévert; and a letter about the beauty of his mother that provides a clue to a decade-long affair.
Funny, touching, and wry, Mosaic shows how other people's lives, however eccentric or extreme, echo our own dreams and experiences.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
“Basil Street Blues,” a 1999 memoir by the well-known British biographer, recounted his feckless parents’ slide from fortune in a masterly panorama of waning upper-middle-class life. This sequel clears up loose ends: readers, sometimes irate, write to correct aspects of the family story, and Holroyd hunts, often at extravagant length, for archival clues about some of the more elusive characters. This makes for a bit of a grab bag, but Holroyd can make even the red tape surrounding probate seem comic and sad. He comes closer to self-portrait than previously, wryly pointing up the detachment beneath his equable exterior. At the funeral of a nonagenarian aunt, he is the only mourner until a representative of her nursing home, who never met her, arrives and promptly bursts into tears: “Anyone seeing us must have concluded that she is the sorrowing relative and I the bland official.”
Publishers Weekly
In 1999, British biographer Holroyd (Lytton Strachey, Bernard Shaw) published his memoir Basil Street Blues, and devoted readers wrote him letters with testimonies and memories that both enhanced and contradicted the careful family history he'd attempted to write. Now, Holroyd delves back into his family's past to "fill one more gap," resulting in a "requiem... a love story... a detective story, [and] finally a book of secrets revealed." However, revisiting his history a second time around does nothing to relieve the author's difficult moral dilemma: how does one respect a family's privacy while attempting to accurately render their lives? Holroyd spends most of the book delving further into the shadowy pasts of his grandmother (who was the mistress of French anarchist Jacques Pr vert), mother and aunts, and into his own roller-coaster love affair with a colorful and passionate writer named Phillipa Pullar, whose "moods lurched and swerved violently, unaccountably-she swallowed purple hearts, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, all mixed with alcohol." Many of his recollections are fascinating portraits of individuals coming of age in the early 1900s, though readers unfamiliar with Basil may tire of the lengths to which the author goes to uncover the minutiae of what may seem like "extravagantly humdrum people." Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Mickey Choate. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After the publication of his 1999 memoir, Basil Street Blues, Holroyd discovered even more depth to his rich heritage when readers flooded him with letters offering compelling details of his extraordinary family. In this funny, touching memoir, he pieces together fascinating stories, recalling, for instance, the London apartment in which he sometimes stayed with his mother and her third husband (it turns out to have been used by Hitler's ambassador, Von Ribbentrop) and the huge glass elephant his father used to help a German Jew escape Nazi Germany in 1935. In drawing on readers' letters, Holroyd truly demonstrates how people from all walks of life are interconnected by their experiences and emotions. A beautifully written perspective on one person's genealogy, this is an intriguing and enjoyable read. Highly recommended for larger public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/04.] Susan McClellan, Avalon P.L., Pittsburgh Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran biographer Holroyd (Bernard Shaw, 1998, etc.) digs up some more material on his most recent subject: his own family. In the author's previous memoir, Basil Street Blues (2000), he applied his trademark high-toned literary approach to personal history. That book brought Holroyd unexpected popular acclaim, as well as a fair amount of communication from readers who offered up more information about some of the foggier regions of his family history. These chips and fragments gave the writer an opportunity to add detail to the broad picture he painted in his earlier work. Holroyd takes a necessarily scattershot approach to his material; after all, something as rough and unplanned as a human life, much less numerous lives bound together by bloodlines and circumstance, can't be neatly organized. But it's remarkable how much he learned from complete strangers about relatives as close as his father and as mysterious as his grandfather's mistress. Almost more interesting, however, are the details that Holroyd lets lie along the road of his discoveries, such as his penchant for visiting prostitutes as a young man and his secret marriage to novelist Margaret Drabble. Holroyd occasionally overidentifies with his subjects, a common problem with biographers and an especially deadly one for a writer who seems already too fond of introspection and who is essentially researching himself. Still, there are times-especially when revisiting his long, loving, tumultuous relationship with writer Philippa Pullar-when the power of his narrative takes off on a raw tear that is nothing less than exhilarating. Navel-gazing, then, but redeemed by the author's rich power of memory and mellifluous voice: thetelling's the thing, not the story. Agent: Caradoc King/AP Watt
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327687
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/1/2004
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 0.70 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Holroyd has written celebrated biographies of Hugh Kingsmill, Augustus John, and Bernard Shaw, as well as the acclaimed Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. He lives in London with his wife.

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