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On a hill above the Italian village of Ravello stands the Villa Cimbrone - a place of fantasy and make-believe. The characters that move through Michael Holroyd's new book are destined never to meet - they lived through different eras and reside in different countries. Yet the Villa Cimbrone unites them all. A Book of Secrets is a treasure-trove of hidden lives, uncelebratOn a hill above the Italian village of Ravello stands the Villa Cimbrone - a place of fantasy and make-believe. The characters that move through Michael Holroyd's new book are destined never to meet - they lived through different eras and reside in different countries. Yet the Villa Cimbrone unites them all. A Book of Secrets is a treasure-trove of hidden lives, uncelebrated achievements and family mysteries. Michael Holroyd peers into dusty corners to bring a company of unknown women into the light. Their lives are fluid and vulnerable - they play the role of mistress, fiancée, or muse - and always somehow illegitimate. From Alice Keppel, the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe (owner of the Villa Cimbrone) and the Prince of Wales; Eve Fairfax, Lord Grimthorpe's abandoned fiancée and sometime muse of Auguste Rodin; and finally, to the novelist Violet Trefusis, the lover of Vita Sackville-West in one of the most scandalous love affairs of the early twentieth-century: these women are always on the periphery of the respectable world. Also on the periphery is the elusive biographer, Michael Holroyd, who turns the spotlight upon himself as part of his investigations into the art of biography. Taking the reader on a journey of discovery from Ravello to Paris, from Kirkstall Grange in Yorkshire to Vita Sackville-West's home at Knole, A Book of Secrets lucidly gives voice to fragile human connections....

Title : A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780701185343
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers Reviews

  • Marissa Morrison
    2018-12-25 16:50

    After reading the first 75 pages and feeling as though I ought to give up, I logged into goodreads and saw that some people wrote that the book would be getting much better in the second half. Let me tell you, IT DOES NOT GET BETTER.This is one of the worst books I've read in a long while. The main problem is that the biographical details of the subjects' lives aren't fleshed out through any sort of compelling narrative. Holroyd does not bring these figures to life, in spite of the fact that they all sound like they were truly colorful people.Sometimes Holroyd doesn't even present the facts, let alone provide them in story form. For example, this sentence, on page 183 (where I finally gave up reading the book): "Her first marriage, a distressing experience involving an umbrella, had to be annulled." Holroyd got paid to write this book, and that's all he could bring himself to say on the subject of so-and-so's first marriage!? It sounds like there's an interesting story there, if only someone would share it.

  • Larry
    2019-01-09 13:46

    When I started A Book of Secrets... I didn't know where it was headed. It talked about a model for Rodin I had never heard of (Eve Fairfax), her history, who she didn't marry, who she knew (which was just about everyone), what she knew, and the whole host of the liaisons of the late 19th century through the 1950's. Alice Keppel (mistress to the Prince of Wales and other notables), mother of Violet Trefusis (the lover of Vita Sackville-West),appearances by Lytton Strachey (author of Eminent Victorians, Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson (husband of Vita Sackville-West), Winston Churchill, and the biographer himself who is far from a disinterested observer, ferreting out who slept with whom, how often, when, and what the author thought about these relationships. Will everyone like this book? Certainly not! For one thing, if you have never heard of the key characters (Vita and Violet, and Virginia Woolf) who made up the Bloomsbury Set you may not care about their love lives and intrigues (or you may see this book as a springboard to learn about a fascinating time in the social history of England in the 19th and 20th centuries). If you know of them, or have visited Sissinghurst, Vita and Harold's restored ruined castle and gardens (and not visited in the book) Michael Holyroyd's vast collection of intersecting biographies (including his own) is a Must Read.

  • Jennifer
    2018-12-19 09:06

    Just when I thought that surely the last word had been wirtten for a while about the Bloomsbury set, here is celebrated biographer Michael Holroyd with a nonfiction narrative about a villa in Italy, its turn-of-the-century visitors, and their offspring of very uncertain parentage. Holroyd is a master of pulling all this material together. I love how he brings a little life to what could have been a week with many dull moments reading through a bunch of disordered papers: "Hurtling round the Yorkshire moors in her brave car,...Catherine informs me that she is not after all the daughter of Angela and David Lycett Green, but of Angela Green and her lover Ralph Grimthorpe. Catherine had got into the car at the beginning of our journey as my old school friend's sister, but gets out of it an hour later as Earnest's illegitimate granddaughter."

  • Jennie
    2018-12-21 09:07

    I read this book cover-to-cover, not because I couldn't put it down--in fact, I literally threw it down in exasperation several times--but because my book club chose it. I read out of duty and kept hoping to find some redeeming qualities somewhere.The gushingly positive review from The New York Review of Books and other noted media are misleading. I wonder if the NYRB reviewer really read the book or simply skimmed it and wrote his review on the basis of Holroyd's previous, prize-winning biographies of important people.I'm not a big fan of biography, Holroyd's specialty, but this book isn't really a biography at all. Rather, it's a series of biographical essays about a handful of minor personalities in the British aristocracy. These non-fictional characters share some tangled familial relationships, including amorous affairs and illegitimate children; Holroyd attempts to connect them all to each other through the Villa Cimbrone, a "fabulous" mansion in Italy where most of them spent some time. He tries to bring the villa to life as another character in the tale, but I never felt transported to the Tuscany coast nor did I feel haunted by the same ghosts who linger in the villa's halls or the author's mind. Holroyd's sketches of these less than important people should have been right up my alley; as I spend most of my time studying so-called "unimportant" people. Yet, Holroyd has made this group of eccentric aristocrats appear to be dreadfully boring people who led more or less ordinary lives of 19th and 20th century wealthy (or well connected) vagabonds. More than one reviewer notes that Holroyd writes these real people's lives "like a novelist," but I disagree. This book lacks a plot and character development typical of the modern novel, and it lacks any redeeming qualities of the postmodern novel. The passages where Holroyd digresses into memoir are puzzling; they mostly made me sad as he didn't seem to know when to stop writing. With the exception of the scandalous lesbian love affair between Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West in Part II, I found little of interest here other than the few mentions of Marcel Proust, Max Jacob, and other literati of turn-of-the-century Paris. While an reviewer found Holroyd's critical summaries of Trefusis's fiction "interesting," they did not inspire me to go pick up one of her books in English, French, or in any other language. Unless you have a deep interest in the late 19th and early 20th century British aristocracy's obscure members or you are trapped on a deserted island with this book, I recommend picking up something else to read.

  • Vivian Valvano
    2019-01-13 08:53

    Disappointed. Holroyd is one of the kings of biography (Shaw, Strachey...), and the TIMES review of this piqued my interest. But the only thing I found interesting (while not terribly earth-shattering or revealing) was the information about the relationship of Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West. The title is totally misleading. Sure, there are illegitimate daughters and absent fathers (e.g., Violet was the illegitimate child of Ernest Beckett/Lord Grimthorpe [heaven help him with that stupid title] - and her mother, Alice Keppel, also had a much more famous paramour, the Prince of Wales). But that's not the focus of the book. In fact, the book has no focus that I could find. Holroyd became mildly obsessed with the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, a place that tangentially connects to some of the personages he writes about. And he devotes far too many pages to one Tiziana Masucci, a young contemporary woman writer who is so totally, even passionately, obsessed with Violet Trefusis that I feared for her sanity (Tiziana's, not Violet's).

  • Millie
    2018-12-25 12:05

    Holroyd is a superb biographer. He claims this one to be his last. Since he focuses on some members of the Bloomsbury group, it was a must read for me. A secondary pleasure was enjoying his comments on the history of the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, Italy. We've had the pleasure of visiting the villa twice. Its setting is one of the world's most beautiful. Apparently, the Bloomsbury set, as well as others such as Gore Vidal, thought so too. Holroyd has also written on Lytton Strachey and Bernard Shaw. The eye-opening line for me was to read that one of the women profiled in BOOK OF SECRETS was the great-grandmother of Camilla, the present wife of Prince Charles. Another fun element was to find the references to Margaret Drabble, a superb English novelist still alive and well and married to Holroyd. Now I want to read more of her works. In fact, her novel, THE SEA LADY, is on my current stack of must-reads.

  • Jenny Brown
    2019-01-09 15:08

    The only reason this mess of a book got published and got the great reviews it received must be because Holroyd is deeply entrenched in the English literary establishment. This book has no theme, the title bears no relationship to its topic, and what it really is, is fragments of biographical research the author collected that never came together. On top of that, the people profiled here are wealthy nonentities (the wealth inherited), with unpleasant personalities, trivial or nonexistant accomplishments, and self-indulgent sexual habits accounts of whose lives only make us realize how spoiled, self-indulgent, and inbred the English ruling class was, and perhaps, still is.

  • Brittany
    2018-12-27 12:50

    This was an OK book, but it fascinated me far out of proportion to its merits. I don't know if it was the descriptions of glamorous times and places or the dramatic life stories, but something hooked me, and I could hardly stop reading it. However, I couldn't tell you how all the main characters were related, how they interconnected or how they all related to the Villa Cimbrone on Amalfi Coast of Italy. The writing was fine, but not exceptional, and what seemed like significant details of characters' lives were left out. He also drew conclusions that seemed unmerited by the supporting information. A weak biography and history, but I enjoyed it. Perhaps it hit me at just the right time.

  • Sylvia Gruner
    2019-01-19 10:11

    I have to agree with others here. I had to force myself to finish this. There seemed to be a lot of meandering and no real point. I never did figure out what the subtitle referred to. If the author meant Violet Trefusis, he failed to show in any depth how her suspected illegitimacy harmed her or effected her. Maybe I missed it. Anyway, he spent a lot of time on several women who seemed to flit through the book without any real purpose or to make a point. As far as the Villa Cimbrone, again, no real point. Overall, it was confusing which made it difficult to read. I can get through a 350 page book in less than 48 hours. This, at 241 pages, took about two weeks.

  • Michael Spring
    2019-01-07 11:05

    It is an odd and confusing book, with so many twists and turns and changes of perspective. The one really good thing in it is the last words of the first Lord Grimthorpe, which, while they may not echo down the years, have a distinct ring of truth about them: "We are low on Marmalade." But what else would you expect from a Yorkshire banker facing eternity? I gave up in the second half.

  • Ann
    2019-01-16 11:52

    this book is marvelous, love every bit of it

  • Rick
    2019-01-08 11:55

    A strange, bifurcated, autobiographical biography of 3-4 different people, loosely associated around the themes of illegitimate children and a lovely, albeit slightly tacky, Italian villa on the Amalfi coast. The Violet-Vita romance in the latter half was fascinating, and it's influence on the Virginia Woolf novel Othello was news to me. But I am still not sure why this exists, and many tangents left the reader slightly frustrated. What has become of Catherine, for example? Also the foreword lead you to believe the Villa Cimbrone would play a much more major role than it did. I am told through reading reviews that the autobiographical insertion of Holroyd is a welcome change in his past style, but to me it seemed a little half-assed, so to speak, but this is coming from someone who reads more gonzo books than biographies of British royals. To be honest, I'm not sure why I read this, I wasn't even sure what I was getting into. Pages would go by where I found myself skipping ahead, but other sections were captivating and fascinating and beautiful. Good to get out of your comfort zone and worth my time, I think. Definitely worth it if you're into the history of lesbian literature, the english nobility or biography.

  • Pascale
    2019-01-03 11:53

    This book contains much fascinating material, and like all of Holroyd's biographies it is well-researched and engagingly written. The 2 principals are Eve Fairfax and Violet Trefusis, linked by the fact that the first one was once betrothed to Ernest Beckett, a failed politician close to Winston Churchill's father, while the second was his illegitimate daughter. Both became increasingly eccentric and pathetic as they grew older. Fairfax never married and survived as a hanger-on in aristocratic circles. Trefusis had a slightly more productive life as the author of several novels in French and in English but also died unmoored and unloved. For those of us with an interest in the Bloomsbury Group and/or the world of Proust, a book on these secondary figures is of some interest. Yet by the end I got rather bored with them, and Holroyd failed to convince me that Violet's novels are worth reading, except as a historical curiosity. His chapter on her fiction is the weakest in the book, and as it comes right at the end it rather spoilt my experience of the whole. PS: the font for this edition is abysmal and will ruin your eyes!

  • Featherbooks
    2019-01-02 11:03

    A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers was a bit of a slog for me. While the characters were interesting, the information provided seemed too thin to merit a book. The author based it on a villa in the South of Italy but then we moved to England, to France, to Vita & Violet, to an Italian friend, disparate characters, places, and the book's focus and especially its passion suffered."With his oblique anecdotes about Salman Rushdie, and a footnoted reference to one of his wife Margaret Drabble’s novels, Holroyd, too, sometimes gives us his literary-social milieu instead of real emotional involvement" Laura Marsh writes in the online New Review piece below and perhaps that is what is missing from the book. I could not connect.

  • Kelly
    2018-12-24 11:12

    I read this in a couple of days this week and did not like much of it. The author never really knew what he was doing and calls this his last book in the epilogue. Like the people he writes about, he seems to wonder what his life has amounted to: not much it seems in spite of his many books. Holroyd admires the passions he finds in these aristocrats who moved from lover to lover because their lives were full of immense joy and pain. He seems to see himself as someone in the middle - someone for whom passion is displaced. He find joy in researching, being near and judging those who do feel immensely. I really don't know what holds this book together. It's part literary analysis, part history and part memoir, like the women writers he chronicles. Another feminist book club book. Should be an interesting discussion. It always is. I actually voted for this book. Someone should disenfranchise me.

  • Alison Barber
    2018-12-29 13:49

    This book left me absolutely elated. I loved the way it wended its way from a Rodin bust of the mistress of an obscure aristocrat I had never heard of to the lonely death of his increasingly eccentric and unpleasant better known daughter Violet Trefusis. I am in awe of the details unearthed about the lives they lead, the letters they wrote, what people thought of them and the very many interesting people they met and the sometimes breathtaking way these lives intersected. Fascinating, and humane. It reads less like a scholarly study and more like a memoir of friends. Holroyd gives us a glimpse of these women who were at the edge of the spotlight and it is a warm and kind view but not it is a warts and all view. I was delighted to have met them, sad that they died, aghast at his comment it was his last book and inspired to hunt down at least some of Violet Trefusis's books and reread Virginia Woolf's Orlando. A gem!

  • Sarah
    2018-12-21 12:06

    The Book of Secrets, another book about the British aristocracy that I popped into my suitcase at Christmas, is about notorious affairs and illegitimate children. The story fell into two parts. The first was about wealthy aristocrat Edward Beckett, a true lothario with numerous wives, fiancées and mistresses, the most famous, and interesting, of which, was Alice Keppel, long time mistress of King Edward the VII. The second part was about Violet Trefusis, the daughter of Beckett and Keppel.I liked the first part, particularly the story of Alice Keppel, but I found the second, which focused on Violet’s affair with Vita Sackville-West, irritating and tedious. These days, Violet and Vita, would be tabloid stars, truly high maintenance chicks. Violet, in particular, was selfish, hysterical, and capricious. I know that I am on a minority for not finding their affair wildly romantic and intriguing, but in this book I would have preferred more of Alice Keppel and less of her daughter.

  • Lauren Fritz
    2018-12-26 17:04

    I really loved the last 100 pages, when it really got into Violet and Vita, especially Violet, it made me want to read a whole book about just her. And the ending was so depressing, so good. But the first 150 pages I didn't like that much, it was supposed to be about women who were not written about, forgotten by history but he spends many pages on the Violet's father, who is interesting for sure but too much was about him. Also, the very intimate style he uses, weaving in his own story and that of other people today who are searching for Violet, just didn't work. He stops doing it in the last 100 pages, now that I think about it, so maybe that was why those last pages were so much better too. The focus wasn't on him or present day but on Violet, Vita and their husbands, which was really fascinating. If you read it, speed read until the last third, then dive it.

  • Mary Ronan Drew
    2019-01-16 12:53

    A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers by Michael Holroyd. This book was one of the Time Magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2011 and a Publisher's Weekly's Best Nonfiction Title for 2011. I'm not sure why. The book was interesting but it didn't have the spark to light my biblio-fire. Here's what the publisher says: "A Book of Secrets is a treasure trove of hidden lives, uncelebrated achievements, and family mysteries. With grace and tender imagination, Holroyd brings a company of unknown women into the light. From Alice Keppel, the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales; to Eve Fairfax, a muse of Auguste Rodin; to the novelist Violet Trefusis, the lover of Vita Sackville-West—these women are always on the periphery of the respectable world."2011 No 188

  • Laura
    2018-12-27 16:52

    This book is part biography and part memoir making the purpose of the book somewhat confusing. I think Holroyd should have expanded the biography aspect and ditched the memoir. He tries to make Villa Cimbrone some sort of spiritual tie between the historical characters presented in the book, but it seems forced and contrived; however, his presentation of Lord Grimthrope, Alice Keppel, Eve Fairfax, Violet Trefusis, and Vita Sackville-West, and others, is delightful. The descriptions are just enough to whet the appetite and beg for more. A familiarity with some of the notables of early 20th century Britain is helpful as name like Cyril Connelly and Harold Acton are dropped into the book without any background information. It is assumed the reader is as familiar with them as with other more well–knowns such as Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence

  • Pat
    2019-01-02 14:53

    This book was a birthday gift from a friend and, at the start that was all that kept me reading it. I was quite interested in the references to Yorkshire and Leeds in particular as it is a place I have known well in the past, but I did get hooked once the author moved on to Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West. This part of the book was much more enjoyable and kept me interested right to the end. As far as Michael Holroyd goes, this is the first book of his that I have read although I have read a lot by his wife, Margaret Drabble and his sister in law A.S. Byatt. I much prefer their books to his but that is a matter of personal opininon as I am not much into biography.

  • Martha
    2019-01-08 11:03

    Like other readers I too think this had some really interesting facts about the lives of his subjects. However, my interest in them was not book length. Part One could have made a nice long article about the marginalized women. Part Two suddenly seemed an effort to launch the career of an Italian writer whom Holroyd takes a shine to. She sends him "playful emails "we are told. In my thinking, Holroyd thought he was on to something and either didn't have enough material and or fell under the sway of of the driven (and perhaps tragic) Tiziana. Maybe that is exactly the story he most wants to tell as he experiments with biography, but it left me wondering why.

  • The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
    2019-01-11 12:15

    WHEN IT COMES to reading other people’s diaries, biographers claim a sort of diplomatic immunity. In what he calls his final book, Michael Holroyd gleans salacious details from the life of Ernest Beckett, a womanising English nobleman (he inherited the title Lord Grimthorpe—a name Evelyn Waugh might have struggled to coin) and minor politician. “Ernest’s diary made it clear that an innkeeper’s beautiful daughter in Naples had fallen in love with him,” Holroyd writes half-admiringly. Read more...

  • Sarah Harkness
    2019-01-14 10:54

    Ultimately a bit disappointing. The first third, about Beckett, was to me the most interesting. There didn't seem to be much new in the longer sections on Vita and Violet that I hadn't read before, and as I haven't read any of Violet's novels, and don't intend to, the long section on them didn't grip me. Also I was disappointed not to know more about the villa. The other lovely piece of writing, if slightly out of place here, is the description of the drive with Catherine Till to Ravello, which reminded me of very Italian hire car drive I've ever done. Very funny!

  • Laura Santoski
    2018-12-29 09:00

    Make no mistake: Michael Holroyd is a very good writer and biographer, and while reading this book I was continually impressed by the research that must have gone into writing it. However, I felt the book as a whole was not cohesive. It focused on people who had been "united" by the Villa Cimbrone in some way, but the actual villa played only a minor role in the book (most of it discussed other aspects of the figures' lives), so there was not enough to link each person. Many of the individual stories were very interesting, but I wished the book had had a clearer trajectory.

  • Maggi
    2018-12-23 13:06

    loved this book. When I was a surly teenager, and sick with flu, my mother gave me Portrait of a Marriage to read. Sort of a funny book to give a teenager to read, I agree. But I was transfixed by the era and the people. I think Michael Holroyd was too, and he gives a very thorough, sympathetic, and completely engaging account of those lost days. Lots of bed-hopping and art and high conversation. But I couldn't put it down. I am now stuck on finding those lost books for re-reading. And I want to go to Sissinghurst really badly.

  • Beverly Swerling
    2019-01-09 10:07

    I am loving this, but then, I'm a sucker for anything Bloomsbury. (If I believed in reincarnation I would know for sure that in a past life I was a cook/general for Virginia Wolfe - in London before the war, so before they were bombed out and decamped to the country. Definitely for sure. Except I find the idea of reincarnation painfully cruel.)Just getting to the section on Vita and Violet and that luscious scandal that has inspired so much terrific writing. Will write a proper review when I'm done.

  • Dianne Lange
    2019-01-18 10:45

    Loved it. But it helps to be fascinated by Virginia Wolf, Vita Sackville-West, and Violet Trefussis. Violet was new to me...and what a compelling, sad, and passionate character. Holroyd's retelling of Trefussis' novels gets a bit tedious, but that's the book's only fault. From the description of an aging Gore Vidal to the life and loves of Earnest Beckett and his villa Cimbrone, I lapped it up! Now that I know who all the characters really are, I must read Orlando. If you read it, keep a list of the cast of characters...their lineage gets confusing.

  • Alexandra
    2019-01-04 13:47

    Partway through, I almost gave up -- my reaction to the sad tale of Eve Fairfax was essentially "so what?" Her life isn't interesting enough to devote half a book to, even a short book. The second half of the book, primarily about Violet Trefusis, was more interesting but her life is already covered in more depth by several biographies. I can't understand what all the critical hoopla over this book was about; I find it slight.

  • Bobsie67
    2018-12-28 16:50

    Perhaps the best-written biorgaphy of wacky rich Brits people and their lurid lives that I've ever read. All the love affair connections and who si related to whom can get confusing. Happily, the author gives a family tree at the end which I needed to review several times just so that I could remember the familial connections. The added plus is that Mr. Holroyd writes so lovingly of Villa Cimbrone, where my wife and I spent an enchanting day on our honeymoon.