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A Life of My Own

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,256 ratings  ·  200 reviews
Acclaimed biographer Claire Tomalin, the bestselling author of The Invisible Woman and Jane Austen, turns her critical eye to another fascinating literary life: her own.

In this intimate and insightful memoir, Claire remembers moments of national literary history as well as intense personal emotion: a turbulent childhood disturbed by her parents' custody battle; her escape
Kindle Edition, 343 pages
Published September 7th 2017 by Penguin
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Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you to Penguin Publishing Group who provided an advance reader copy via Edelweiss.

My love of biographies that take place in England led me to this autobiography by author Claire Tomalin. I knew nothing of her existence previously, but was frankly lured in by her cover photo and the title of the book.

My observations of Ms. Tomalin are that of a very intelligent, talented, confident and fiercely strong woman. She is now in her early eighties, but recounts quite thoroughly and beautifully a
Tomalin is known as a biographer of literary figures including Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. [I’ve read these last two, and have three of her previous books on the shelf.] I therefore expected that her own life story would have more to say about the biographer’s craft. Instead, this is a fairly straightforward – if sometimes restrained – autobiography ideal for readers of Diana Athill, David Lodge and John Carey (thinking specifically of the li ...more
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible
Claire Tomalin was a name I recognised only from my days as a bookseller, her biographies of Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self and Charles Dickens: A Life were popular and well reviewed. I hadn't read anything of hers and probably wouldn't have been interested much in her life had I not happened to catch an interview with her talking about writing history and biography, particularly the sometime reaction to being female and attempting to write authoritative biographies of important men. Being im ...more
Julie Ehlers
A Life of My Own is well-written and mostly interesting and definitely delivers what it promises. If you read the publisher's description and think it sounds like something you'd like, you'll probably like it. ...more
Beth Bonini
I bought a copy of this book as soon as it came out, but I only read it after seeing Tomalin at the Cambridge Literary Festival this past weekend (November 25). Some of the anecdotes and funny lines in the biography were touched on in her hour-long interview, but I was surprised to discover that the theme she returned to again and again - the difficulty of being a mother and having a career - is not more analysed in her writing. I took notes as she was speaking, and looking back at them I see th ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
I've read many of Tomalin's excellent biographies. I've also heard her speak about one of her books (Charles Dickens) at a Lake District Literary Festival. I could happily have listened to her for hours.

I did wonder about how you would go about writing your own life if you've been used to what must be a very different attitude in writing someone else's. So maybe it didn't surprise me that I often felt she was holding back.

Equally she has children who might well read their mother's book. How far
Jo Walton
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think Tomalin is the first biographer I started reading because she wrote it rather than because I was interested in the subject.

This is a fascinating book because she is in many ways an ordinary person, not the kind of person biographies are written about, and yet her ordinary life is (like all our lives) in many ways extraordinary. She turns her clear critical but sympathetic eye on herself, her parents, her choices, in the same way she does on Pepys and Austen -- and the result is excellen
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A friend of mine recommended this to me and I was surprised at how boring I found it to be. Tomalin has led a fascinating life but she does not write about it in particularly engaging ways. I mostly found that it seemed rushed--like she had a task for herself, to get from point A to point B. Even when talking about the deaths of her husband and son and daughter, there is a great deal of detail about who she called, who dropped by to offer condolences, etc. And the endless detail about all her ne ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
There is some truth to the charge of name dropping in this memoir. It is also holding back, and one does wonder how her children felt reading about their father.

Yet, it is still a good read.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Claire Tomalin is a well-known, British author and literary editor who has written biographies of Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy, Dicken’s mistress, Nelly Ternan (made into a film starring Kirsten Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes), Katherine Mansfield, and more. In other words, she had a lot of experience in writing compelling biographies before tackling her own. Because she’s had an exceptional life, full of tragedy, money problems, WWII, family strife, and famous friends and acquain ...more
Jacki (Julia Flyte)
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Clare Tomalin was literary editor of the Sunday Times and has written several acclaimed biographies. This is her autobiography. She has lived an interesting life and she writes well, but I had the same frustrations with it that I had with Rose Tremain's recent memoir. Both are from a similar era (Tomalin is 10 years older) and there is only so much that they are willing to share. So we read a lot about Tomalin's work successes, we get the names of just about everyone she was at school with or wo ...more
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Literate (literary critic and biographer), honest, and unapologetic memoir of her life in England. My therapist suggested it, perhaps in hopes of encouraging me to develop some bravado for single life in old age, however I have the attitude, just not the money, career and the connections, so don't know if it was useful in that regard. In any event, this was a clear emotional description of losing a child.

“Grief has to be set aside, but it does not go away. It arrives each morning as you awake, l
Jul 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I couldn't help but read this as a political book: a description of a life of extreme privilege, even if not riches. Personal tragedies are much easier to overcome when you have the right education and the right connections. And somehow I am now weeks later still hounded by the thought that this is exactly what's wrong with the Labour party today! :D It's a playground for upper middle-class, who need to work to make a living, rather than a party that looks out for those without the privilege of ...more
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have real problems with the self-perception of the author with this one. Granted, Tomalin has led an interesting life and she has also had to endure the birth of a child suffering from spina bifida and the death of her husband on reporting duty in Palestine – indeed, she is excellent on the mixed emotions following this event given that the man in question was selfish and perennially unfaithful and unreliable. Her determination to move on after the ceremony surrounding his funeral and obituary ...more
May 19, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-biography
Available as a ten-hour audio download. I always think that autobiographies on audio gain something when read by the author, but this one is read by an actor. Still, very enjoyable.

I’ve only read one book by Tomalin -- her biography of Samuel Pepys -- but that was more than enough to be able to enjoy this audio book. This book is partially about the literary life, but to a surprising extent it is about other things -- love affairs and family especially, with a special emphasis on the joys and he
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs, read-in-2019
Maybe Tomalin's biographies are more interesting. But this memoir missed everything that could have been interesting - emotions! gossip! It was incredibly restrained, like Tomalin was hiding a lot of her true self, and despite the seemingly endless naming of specific people, there were very few interesting observations or stories. She seems like a wonderful and intelligent woman who has been through a lot of difficult times, but I just don't think writing memoir is the same as writing biography. ...more
I didn't know anything about Claire Tomalin before I came across her autobiography but I decided to read it anyway. I did like it, for the most part, I think she lived an interesting and full life. I will probably try to find a couple of her books, "The invisible woman" or "The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft" ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Actually a autobiography by a fascinating, remarkable woman, British/French, who is a writer, biographer, mother, wife, daughter; and how all of those parts have moved around one another over the decades.
Claire Fuller
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this autobiography. I didn't know much about Tomalin, except the books she'd written, so there was much for me to learn. Written in a very engaging way. ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I can't remember why I added this book to my shelf and it's not the type of story I would ordinarily seek out. I think it might have been because I came across her first husband's story last year when I was reading a biography of Marie Colvin, another Sunday Times journalist killed while reporting on a war.

As a foreigner, most of the name-dropping of the mid-20th century literary set was lost on me (with a few very notable exceptions - and, actually, I realised thanks to her mention of a few soc
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, bookgroup-3
3.5+ Audiobook. Book group selection. Interesting stories about an amazing life, but the writing often seemed mechanical and included too many details.
Stories about her children’s mental and physical disabilities were worth hearing.

I kept being distracted by Penelope Wilton’s narration because I kept seeing her in Downton Abbey...😊

I do want to read some of the biographies written by the author because I hear they are better than her autobiography.
Amy Prosenjak
This gal knew and knows everyone in the literary world. Wow.
Oct 18, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first part of the book - and how her mother felt about divided loyalties - was the most valuable to me.

Reading allows you to live the experiences of others

For that I am grateful

Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Edelweiss provided me with a DRC of this title for an honest review.

There is an inherent mystery in the quest to learn about anyone's life, let alone one's own. Claire Tomalin's skilled, sensitive biographies have always illuminated the reader's knowledge of her subjects (Pepys, Austen, Mansfield, Dickens, as well as some previously obscure women.) Tomalin is talented not just at unearthing facts about their day to day lives, but putting those lives into larger contexts of meaning, of class, his
Mr Jeremy C Allan-Smith
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Getting her own back

A biographer's autobiography makes for fascinating reading. Relying so much more on memory than on the fruits of intensive research creates the impression of a life as constant work in progress as events unfurl across 84 years. There is a modesty and good humour here that takes the spectacle out of the spectacular, even at times of mortifying crisis and loss. The death of Nick Tomalin in the Yom Kippur war of 1973 seemed to threaten the sanity of a whole generation of well-kn
William P.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book quite fine but, like a few other commentators, I found Ms. Tomalin's tone a bit diffident and even opaque. Specifically, I wondered how such a woman managed to survive a rocky childhood, an early and difficult marriage ending in early widowhood, raising several children, the loss of two children and the serious disability of a third-- all the while staying near the top of a highly competitive profession. Then I heard Ms. Tomalin being interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. Her obvious ...more
Jill Blevins
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was another one of those books that, once you heard the author on a podcast, you knew it was just a matter of time before that book was in your hands and you were transported to 1970's London; into a world completely different from everything you're dealing with at the moment.

It's noticeably written better than almost anything I've read for a while, although that just means she has been properly schooled in upper class English and all the manners and structure that accompanies it. It's als
Julia Rice
Jun 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I listened to this as an audiobook, preferring not to join the long queue reserving it at my local library. It was narrated by Dame Penelope Wilton who was the perfect reader. I had been looking forward to it; I am an admirer of Claire Tomalin, now in her 80s, and her life sounded fascinating. I was a little disappointed I'm afraid. Her life has indeed been full, not least with the events that have dominated her personal and family life - her turbulent marriage, then the death of her war corresp ...more
Katherine Kreuter
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved this book - so suppose I should give it all 5 stars but I'm trying not to gush so early in the year. I read it after reading a review of Rose Tremain's Rosie, which the reviewer compared unfavourably to this work. The difference is that Tremain's at heart a novelist who looks at her childhood with great sensitivity and narrative flair. Whereas Tomalin was a critic first and biographer second (speaking chronologically), so her past is keenly observed and succinctly described, with an eye ...more
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Born Claire Delavenay in London, she was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge.

She became literary editor of the 'New Statesman' and also the 'Sunday Times'. She has written several noted biographies and her work has been recognised with the award of the 1990 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 1991 Hawthornden Prize for 'The Invisible Woman The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens'.


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