A review of Javier Marias' Written Lives
It's difficult to be moderate about the charm of these brief portraits of Rimbaud, Turgenev, Rilke, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Robert Louis Stevenson, Isak Dinesen, Djuna Barnes and a dozen other literary eminences. "The one thing that leaps out when you read about these authors," writes the acclaimed Spanish novelist Javier Marías, "is that they were all fairly disastrous individuals; and although they were probably no more so than anyone else whose life we know about, their example is hardly likely to lure one along the path of letters." That wry sense of amusement characterizes Marías's approach. Though he acknowledges the artistic greatness of his chosen writers, he prefers to point out and relish their personal oddities, all those quirks, eccentricities and obsessions that make them neurotically and sometimes pitiably human.
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