Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir

Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Nov. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780385542456. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385542463. MEMOIR
National Book Award–winning biographer Bair (Samuel Beckett: A Biography) turns her lens in a new direction with this “bio-memoir,” detailing her experiences during the 1970s and 1980s researching and writing about Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. Bair’s transformation from a journalist and a harried, conflicted wife and mother to an academic chronicler of major 20th-century cultural figures takes place against a backdrop of burgeoning feminism. This dense account of her studies and nearly two decades of traveling to Paris to conduct research includes myriad examples of sexual discrimination and harassment almost inconceivable today. Relying primarily on the notes she kept in her daily diaries, Bair presents an exhaustive report of a seemingly endless list of literary notables she met and ate with and puzzled over, as she tracked down the inner and outer lives of Beckett and de Beauvoir (who, we are told, despised each other).
VERDICT Bair settles some scores and remains moot on a few issues of interest in the literary world in a narrative that will hold the most appeal for Beckett and de Beauvoir aficionados.
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