'IT SOMETIMES SEEMED to me that the policy of editors was: if it's about misery, send it to Dinnage - it's her speciality,' Rosemary Dinnage explains. During thirty years as a literary journalist writing for the TLS and both the New York Review of Books and the LRB, she reviewed a series of books about frustration, bereavement, early death, depression, tragedy, and general gloom. The twenty-four pieces reprinted here are about women who felt isolated, or chose to be solitary, or lived behind masks or were in some kind of trap. Yet any suggestion of feminism in Dinnage's standpoint or arguments is explicitly avoided. She seems to have gone through life believing that she had no need of it, and confesses to being 'very ignorant of women's studies and gender politics', exploring this curious naivety by the preposterous assertion that she was the wrong generation (born well before the war) and nationality (British). She adds that a recent change of mind is partly due to 'the sight of wrinkly old stars fathering babies'. Having resisted the impulse to bin the book and reminded myself that people who are perceptive and intelligent about other people's lives are often blinkered about their own, I read on and found a series of fascinating, if melancholy, essays full of insight, empathy and human understanding.
The subjects chosen from her bulging collection of cutting make a curiously mixed bunch: rich and poor; married, single and gay; transvestites; criminals; doers, and people to whom things were done. The common features are that someone wrote their biographies and that they were, or felt, alone. The one exception