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Basil Street Blues: A Memoir

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  61 Ratings  ·  10 Reviews
Renowned biographer Michael Holroyd had always assumed that his own family was perfectly English, or at least perfectly ordinary. But an investigation into the Holroyd past—guided by old photograph albums, crumbling documents, and his parents' wildly divergent accounts of their lives—gradually yields clues to a constellation of startling events and eccentric characters: a ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 17th 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1999)
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Apr 30, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a sad book. Holroyd has had enormous success which he doest mention at all, because of the failures of his parents in many ways. His father died old and supported by Holroyd, his mother dies early of cancer after an eventful life, and other family live too long and have miserable ends. After writing about so many successful and brilliant people, to turn to your own family and find a reality of underachievement, snobbery, and unjustified view of their status, must have been difficult. But ...more
Aug 17, 2011 Iva rated it really liked it
Holroyd asked his parents to write about their lives before each of them died. He learned many things he wouldn't have known and it led him to uncover some surprising facts about his ancestors. Working with this material, and his background as a biographer of George Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey, he creates an interesting portrait of his own life and his close relations. His parents were divorced, something so unusual in 1940's Britain, that only one other boy in his boarding school had divor ...more
Mary Warnement
I pressed on until page 67 and then decided to give it another try by skipping ahead of all his great- and grandparents to his memoir. Where was that? Around page 127. But not interesting. As a biographer, perhaps he knows what to conceal? But I'm looking for excuses. I have enjoyed what Slightly Foxed has selected for its editions, until now. This goes back on the shelf. How many subway rides did I try it? Three? It couldn't compete even with tedious nature of a commute. Will I ever pick it up ...more
Sep 02, 2013 Mia rated it liked it
It's petering out. Rather disappointing, I must say, and gets a bit sad (but we were warned by his choice of title). I found it mostly plodded along with details surrounding his immediate family members, none of whom I could bring myself to be interested in -- with the possible exception of his aunt Yolande who charges around walking the dogs. Thankfully I have finished it, and can now move on to the hopefully more interesting 2nd and 3rd vols (Mosaic; and Secrets, respectively).
Dec 02, 2008 Kirsten rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anglophiles, genealogists, biographers
The first half is pretty interesting; the second half kind of dribbles away. I'm averaging it to 3 stars. Holroyd is a biographer who asked each of his parents to write an account of their early lives - the two accounts differ in almost every way. This memoir traces his parents and their parents down into his own life. The parents and grandparents are fascinating; his own life, not so much. He really loses focus in the second half, and meanders too much.
Hilary Hicklin
Mar 06, 2013 Hilary Hicklin rated it liked it
Shelves: biographies-read
Described on the cover as “a family story” this is an autobiography by a biographer. Interesting to compare it with De Waal’s book (The Hare with Amber Eyes) which was so much better, written from the heart, whereas this is objective and bitty. It lacks the flow of the other book and is in dire need of a family tree. Disappointing.
Jul 02, 2016 Kelsey added it
I want to love this, generally trusting the impeccable taste of everything Slightly Foxed chooses to publish, but I found this very dry. An accounting of the author's genealogy, with a few tasty morsels of found-out family secrets.

The writing is nice, but I had to force myself to finish it.
Sarah Harkness
Aug 14, 2013 Sarah Harkness rated it liked it
Shelves: nelly
I enjoyed this, as much for Holroyd's prose and wit as for the actual lives described. It is a sad story, his portrait of his Dad is very touching, although he must have been very hard to deal with. An interesting insight into the mind of a biographer.
Nov 25, 2011 Susanne rated it it was amazing
Superb writing and a fascinating family story.
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Michael Holroyd is the author of acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw, the painter Augustus John, Lytton Strachey, and Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, as well as two memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. Knighted for his services to literature, he is the president emeritus of the Royal Society of Literature and the only nonfiction writer to have been awarded the David Cohen British Prize f ...more
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