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, 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.
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Scintillating...Holroyd's book is a sly, inconclusive and utterly bewitching dance through the elusive narrative echoes that make up the biographer's art - Metro
A Book of Secrets is truly a book of revelations, of sudden, emotional jolts...a testament to the significance of hidden stories and marginal lives - Daily Telegraph
A book of singular fascination - nothing less, in fact, than an attempt to mark out, and then gamely transgress, at least half-a-dozen boundaries that a previous generation of biographers would have hesitated to cross. - Literary Review
compelling readable and almost determinedly in conclusive - Glasgow Herald
As is always the case with Holroyd, the reader comes away equally inspired, equally curious, and lavishly entertained by a story-teller of the first rank. - Scotsman
It is written with Holroyd's characteristic charm, a combination of sympathy and gentle mockery. It is full of haunting images....and underneath the charm and humour it is melancholy and moving - Independent
This is a compelling and thoughtful book. Holroyd's engaging technique in memoir style reveals his own researches and experiences as part of the story - The Lady
Besides the Lives of Augustus John, Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey (which was filmed as Carrington), Michael Holroyd has written two volumes of memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. His most recent book, A Strange Eventful History, winner of the James Tait Black Prize, was a biography of two great theatrical dynasties which included Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and her son Edward Gordon Craig. He has been president of the Royal Society of Literature and is the first non-fiction writer to have been awarded the British Literature Prize. He lives in London and Somerset with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.