A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Saturday 01 March 1997
Indeed, O'Connor's The Secret Woman (Weidenfeld, pounds 20) omits to notice that - if you ignore her first and last husbands, and the passing trade - Dame Peggy's now-famous roster of celebrity lovers makes up an eleven. This team bats all the way down, with a slight loss of sparkle in the middle: J B Priestley, Paul Robeson, Walter Sickert, Mark Dignam, Theodore Komisarjevsky, Michel Saint-Denis, Billy Buchan (John's son), Burgess Meredith, Tony Britton, William Devlin, George Devine. (Pinter could be the non-playing coach.) As a new twist to the showbiz bio, this has potential. Coming soon: Dame Edith Evans and the catenaccio defence.
After finishing O'Connor's book, you crave some escape from the stultifying limits of its genre. As a "property" as well as a text, it reveals what's gone wrong with the tacky trade in private lives. Extracted in the press for the usual handsome fee attached to sex with the stars, the mushy passages that name those paramours will become the book for most of its audience. Few will bother now about its critical lapses.
Before she died in 1991, Dame Peggy worked with Michael Billington on a sound survey of her roles, from Juliet to The Jewel in the Crown. Sex, in other words, is all O'Connor has to sell, as he can't quote from letters (the children refused him permission). Even so, he fails to build a solid bridge between the turbulent off-stage soul and the regal, even chilly star. And his syntax brings to mind a knitting-basket after the attentions of a pair of frisky kittens. We even learn that "Harriet Walter first met Peggy when she was 74" - bad news for Ms Walter. But who needs an editor when the papers will bombard you with big cheques for soft-centred tittle-tattle? The book is a meretricious muddle. And so is the publishing culture that wraps shabby goods in sensation-seeking hype.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
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- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Ryan Gosling posts tribute to 'Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal' creator Ryan McHenry
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Jar Jar Binks is going to die unceremoniously in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
JK Rowling is 'really sorry' for killing off one of your favourite Harry Potter characters
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally