Living With A Writer by Dale Salwak (ed) - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

Life at the Back End of a Pantomime Horse

Living With A Writer


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'LIVING WITH A writer must be so horrible that it is a wonder anyone chooses to do it. For a start I have yet to meet even the nicest of us who is not, at heart, a kind of monster. How but through utter selfishness, arrogance, single-mindedness and bloody-mindedness would a novel ever be written?' asks the novelist Amanda Craig in her witty contribution to this anthology. I cannot deny that living with a novelist must be, to put it mildly, testing. Yet most of the twenty-six essays or extracts included here are listed under the subtitle, 'The Pleasures', and contradict this pessimism with a series of touching accounts of domestic happiness. A few are reprints, including Paul Theroux's portrait of Lady Naipaul, and the late Malcolm Bradbury's characteristically trenchant 'The Spouse in the House'. Some are about not living with a writer, either by retaining separate houses as Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd famously did, or by living alone (as the crime novelist Catherine Aird does), including the essay by Nadine Gordirner (who is the only writer in her house), which she calls 'Getting Along With Myself'. But most of these articles describe people who shared their lives and homes for decades. If living with a writer is so frustrating and irritating, what are we to make of these examples of harmonious companionship? They can hardly all be exceptions to prove the rule.

Scandal sells books, so although I know or knew and like or love some of the writers described here, I expected to find a series of unflattering revelations. However, Dale Salwak, a professor of English in California and the author of books about Philip Larkin and Barbara Pym, has also

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