A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin


“Life changes in the instant.  The ordinary instant” Joan Didion

This book  “A Life of My Own” is a class act written by a very classy lady who has lead an extraordinary life built on the very ordinariness of life and I loved it. Slightly dull in the beginning with some early scene setting, the relevance of those passages comes into play as the story of Tomalin’s life  unfolds but isn’t that the craft of a gifted story teller to fold in and out of a story and who better to unfold the story of a life that the occupier of that once in a life time slot?

It is the precision of the language and the skill and use of her written word  that appeals to this writer.  At times the writing can seem rather sparse, at others, brutal and raw in its seemingly matter of fact recounting of events that touch on domestic violence, a heart-wrenching -ly unhappy marriage sprinkled with pockets of intense happiness and bliss (perhaps that was how we used to live in marriage), the premature  death of her first husband journalist Nick Tomalin and the later tragic suicide of her daughter.

There were many passages that resonated deeply with me and my time alone with my four children following the death of their father and before I met Michael – Tomalin writing of Nick’s death and the impact on her children:

there was no comfort of strangers for me when I had to tell my children of their father’s death and later of the luminous intensity of single parent hood that followed through – there is a passage in Sons and Lovers I recall by D H Lawrence where he compares Clara to a bubble 

“Look how little she is…she’s lost like a grain of sand in the beach – just a concentrated speck blown along a tiny white foam-bubble, almost nothing among the morning .  Why does she absorb me?”

and for Tomalin, the intensity of life and love and loss in that moment saying

Critics lament the lack of names of lovers enjoyed in brief moments of respite during and following Tomalin’s marriage but for me, that does not detract from the  story line which pulls one wonderfully through.  The detail of names is not missed protected no doubt but not missed.

And of the story of Tomalin’s life ? Her husband Nick Tomalin was killed when the car in which he was travelling  on the Golan Heights took a direct hit during the brutal Israeli war.  Their youngest son, Tom was born with spina bifida , their daughter  – Susanna – somehow took her own life – the recounting of this dreadful narrative written without fuss or sentiment but movingly heart breakingly told.   A new marriage , new work , new writing  – life goes on but the past is all here another country perhaps but still here,  woven into the fabric of this woman’s life

This book pairs well with Elisabeth Luard’s delicious biography Family Life, birth marriage and death the whole damn thing – which differs only by narrative form, successfully weaving french cooking recipes amongst tales of bringing up Luard’s own unusual and gifted family  in France during the 1970s and 1980s.

Both books written by brilliant, resilient, resourceful women .

Top notch stuff.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s