Parisian Lives

Parisian Lives : Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me - a Memoir

4.06 (59 ratings by Goodreads)
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'Fascinating... Wonderfully entertaining and absorbing' Sunday Times

'Gripping... A story well told.' New York Times Book Review

In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and recently minted PhD who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett. He agreed that she could write his biography despite never having written - or even read - a biography herself. The next seven years of intimate conversations, intercontinental research, and peculiar cat-and-mouse games resulted in Samuel Beckett: A Biography, which went on to win the National Book Award and propel Deirdre to her next subject: Simone de Beauvoir. The catch? De Beauvoir and Beckett despised each other - and lived essentially on the same street. While quite literally dodging one subject or the other, and sometimes hiding out in the backrooms of the great cafes of Paris, Bair learned that what works in terms of process for one biography rarely applies to the next. Her seven-year relationship with the domineering and difficult de Beauvoir required a radical change in approach, yielding another groundbreaking literary profile.

Drawing on Bair's extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details that were considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives is full of personality and warmth and gives us an entirely new window on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 153 x 234 x 25mm | 679g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Main
  • 1786492652
  • 9781786492654
  • 16,132

Review quote

Parisian Lives gives readers insight into Bair herself as a woman and writer undertaking the alternately arduous and thrilling, hilarious and inspiring task of writing the biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. As pure memoir it is transporting, and as tribute to the art of biography it is a crucial guide for those aspiring to take a similar journey into someone else's life. Bair shows how it should be done, which is to say how she did it. -- Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women Parisian Lives is a signal achievement. Deirdre Bair's engrossing account of nearly two decades of adventures in Paris brings the city to vivid life. And her personal story, told here in gripping fashion, becomes as compelling as those of her illustrious biographical subjects. -- Mary V. Dearborn, author of Ernest Hemingway This memoir is one of a kind. The backstory of two of the great biographies of our time, it is absorbing from start to finish. I read it in two sittings: that's how eager I was to know what came next. -- Vivian Gornick, author of The Odd Woman and the City Hugely entertaining... The litany of characters she crosses paths with couldn't be invented. All are folded neatly into her protracted game of chess with Beckett with as much weary regret as gossipy relish. * Irish Independent * By turns scholarly and salacious, biographer Bair has loosened decades of polite tongue-biting to write the backstory in what she calls a "bio-memoir" of two influential writers... A generous and graceful writer... Bair's exhaustively detailed and lively memoir also serves as a solid study in the art of biography. * Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) * In a candid and engrossing memoir, Bair creates unvarnished portraits of those two headstrong, demanding, and brilliant individuals as well as of her growth as a researcher, writer, and feminist... A rare, welcome look at the art and craft of biography. * Kirkus Reviews * The Irish master's pioneering biographer recalls her own tale with endearing charm. * Evening Standard, 'Book of the Week' * This juicy book, which [Bair] dubs a "bio-memoir," is at once a record of triumph over the skepticism and sexism she encountered on her path from journalist to academic and biographer and a valuable lesson in the art of biography . . . Parisian Lives is an unqualified success. * Wall Street Journal * A charming, thoughtful memoir * Tatler * Sparkling . . . Bair spent seven years on Beckett and ten on Beauvoir, and her dedication to her subjects is apparent. Into her accounts of working with these eminent, often exasperating writers she weaves recollections of malfunctioning tape recorders, grandstanding sources, and her travails as a professional and a mother commuting across the Atlantic, working in a field dominated by men. * New Yorker * A totally compelling account by a master biographer of the joys and frustrations of writing another's life. While some of her revelations are explosive, Bair manages to present her legendary subjects, Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, as poignantly human. This groundbreaking work returns us nostalgically to a literary Paris that teems with intrigue and humor. -- Rosemary Sullivan, author of Stalin's Daughter Absorbing... Informative and highly readable. -- Jay Parini * Literary Review * Full of encounters, reflections, tribulations, and revelations - an enthralling account of a biographer's lot, by one of the art's most distinguished practitioners. -- Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Cafe [An] insightful and gossipy memoir of a biographer's voyage around two towering subjects... Using her detailed diaries and notes of the time, Bair conjures the atmosphere of the city in which her two subjects lived - never forgetting her own excitement and trepidation, and frustration at moving between salon and cafe-tabac in a sometimes comical search for their stories. -- Tim Adams * Observer * Anyone planning to write a biography of a living person might be forewarned by Deirdre Bair's "bio-memoir," her gripping account of uncovering the lives of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir... In Parisian Lives, which reads much like a "making of..." documentary, she gives us her off-camera take on her first two biographies. And, to our delight, we become voyeurs... A story well told. * New York Times Book Review * Fascinating... Wonderfully entertaining and absorbing * Sunday Times *
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About Deirdre Bair

Deirdre Bair received the National Book Award for Samuel Beckett: A Biography. Her biographies of Simone de Beauvoir and Carl Jung were finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Simone de Beauvoir biography was chosen by The New York Times as a Best Book of the Year. Her biographies of Anais Nin and Saul Steinberg were both New York Times Notable Books. Her most recent book is Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend.
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Rating details

59 ratings
4.06 out of 5 stars
5 42% (25)
4 31% (18)
3 20% (12)
2 5% (3)
1 2% (1)
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