BOOK REVIEW / The art of losing: Other People: Diaries 1963-66 by Frances Partridge, HarperCollins pounds 18

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The Independent Culture
FRANCES PARTRIDGE is Bloomsbury's oldest survivor, but this, the fourth published volume of her diaries, does not belong to the perennial Bloomsbury retrospective. It deals with the period in the Sixties which followed the sudden death of her son Burgo, less than three years after the death of her husband, and it is first and foremost a testament of courage and tenacity, charting her progress from the numbing black ice-water of grief to a point where she has re-created a way of living, a new look at the world through a different lantern slide.

All grief is intensely personal, but anyone who has suffered bereavement will recognise certain of its torments here - the fear of drowning in the isolated self, the sense of irrelevance to others and the lack of 'the warmth of being loved and having someone with whom I can laugh and who is interested in anything at all that I've done or thought, and vice versa'. But here the pain is tempered for the reader by Frances Partridge's utter refusal to indulge in self-pity, her acerbic sense of humour and her generosity to friends, family and humanity. This is no blueprint for survival, but it is a vivid account of one person's way of coping.

She is surrounded by friends who variously

offer or demand support, and as time goes by her involvement in their concerns increases. It is clear that she is much loved, and deservedly so. Her kind, calm intelligence, open mind and unprissy adherence to standards all offered a refuge from the turbulence and sheer silliness of Sixties London life. Julia Strachey, Roland Mortimer, the Cecils, Janetta Jackson, David Garnett, babies, lunatics, labradors crowd about her. And she works, almost unceasingly, through weekends and Christmases wherever she may be, translating and annotating, eager as soon as she has finished one thing to start on something new.

She travels a great deal, too, amazingly even forcing herself to Italy with Raymond Mortimer a couple of weeks after her son's death. As time goes by, her descriptions of these trips become increasingly sharp and fresh, especially illuminated by her delight in colour. There are compelling and unexpected details in her accounts. She finds the painted walls of country villages near Bantry in Ireland reminiscent of buildings in Leningrad. She notices that certain awful truths about the natures of friends are brought out by travel; she loves them nonetheless. She sleeps uncomplainingly under a coverlet cobbled together from her host's underpants, she admires the improvement in Gerald Brenan's domestic arrangements ('there is only one cat and the house smells less than it did'), she learns Turkish, learns Russian, exults in the top floor of the Post Office Tower, adores Herodotus.

People move in and out of the same clear focus. Diana Cooper's startling fixed blue gaze during a railway journey (she is asleep but has had so many face-lifts that she cannot close her eyes); C P Snow, snowman-like dissolving in the golden rays of a bottle of whisky; Iris Murdoch seen as Joan of Arc. Conversation - 'when two people together weave a cat's cradle of ideas' - remains the greatest pleasure of all.

Although Frances Partridge provides notes on some of the foremost dramatis personae, there is often an element of frustration: there are so

many people here with so many children and ex-

husbands and boyfriends, and you can't always work out who belongs to whom. A Bloomsbury family tree would have been useful and interesting, for there has been much intermarriage between its descendants. But these are mere quibbles. This is a moving and affectionate book whose conclusion is that time does not heal the knowledge of loss but does alter it.