Quicksand by Sybille Bedford - review by Henrietta Garnett

Henrietta Garnett

Reassembling The Jigsaw



Hamish Hamilton 370pp £20

Quicksand is Sybille Bedford's long-awaited autobiography. As with many of her generation (she is ninety-four), hers is a disturbing and moving story. Bedford has written relatively little, and most of what she has written is the same story shown from different points of view. The story is her own. She writes slowly, painstakingly, and finds the act torture. Most writers do. An intriguingly late developer, she has produced three masterpieces (and I do not use the word lightly). A Visit to Don Otavio (1953) purports to be a travel book about Mexico but is really a novel about Don Otavio, a ruined aristocrat whose brothers determine on turning his beautiful eighteenth-century hacienda into the most frightful kind of hotel imaginable. Her much acclaimed first novel, The Legacy (1956), and its sequel, the biographical novel Jigsaw (1989), both teasingly tamper with the truth. Jigsaw was understandably nominated for the Booker Prize.

Bedford has also covered nearly a hundred law cases in America, England, France, Germany and Switzerland (including trials as varied as those of Jack Ruby, the twenty-two members of staff at Auschwitz, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Dr Bodkin Adams). Her law reports are writing of a very high order indeed.

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