Laura Cumming

Too Soft on this Monster of Egotism

Simone De Beauvoir: A Life

By

Jonathan Cape 750pp £19.50 order from our bookshop

Five things you didn’t know about Simone de Beauvoir:

  1. ‘Over the moon’ was one of her favourite expressions.
  2. She kept a plaster cast of Sartre’s hands on the living roomtable.
  3. She referred to herself and Sartre as ‘the elves’.
  4. Lover Nelson Algren’s American phone number was listed under her name to tease the FBI.
  5. Forget fashion: she first wore the famous turban to conceal an ill-executed bob cut.

I was hoping to offer the customary twenty, but seven hundred and fifty pages of Deirdre Bair’s biography didn’t yield anymore, despite the clearly effortful labour of ten years’ research. The reader emerges from confinement etiolated, weary, possibly reluctant to read another word by or about Simone de Beauvoir and yet with no clearer impression of the woman than that supplied by Elliott Irwitt’s photograph on the jacket.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,
    • Hi , we would love to review 'Death of the Vazir-Mukhtar' in our next issue! Please could you get in… ,