Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and Daughter by Lyndall Gordon; I Put a Spell on You by John Burnside; Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart - review by Ian Sansom

Ian Sansom

Thanks for the Memories

Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and Daughter


Virago 328pp £20

I Put a Spell on You


Jonathan Cape 288pp £16.99

Little Failure: A Memoir


Hamish Hamilton 368pp £16.99

Oh, God, no. More memoirs? Really? Who needs them? And who cares? We do, of course. It is the art of our age, as it is the art of every age. In the end, every scribbler eventually finds their way back to themselves, to the true hoard, and to the beginning. ‘It is long ere we discover how rich we are,’ writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay ‘Intellect’:

Our history, we are sure, is quite tame: we have nothing to write, nothing to infer. But our wiser years still run back to the despised recollections of childhood, and always we are fishing up some wonderful article out of that pond; until, by and by, we begin to suspect that the biography of the one foolish person we know is, in reality, nothing less than the miniature paraphrase of the hundred volumes of the Universal History. 

Lyndall Gordon has written several prizewinning volumes of the ‘universal history’: an acclaimed biographer, she is the author of lives of T S Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson. Now in her seventies, she has turned to her own family story. In Divided Lives, she devotes to her mother the

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

Follow Literary Review on Twitter