Charging Downhill

Frank Kermode

  • Basil Street Blues: A Family Story by Michael Holroyd
    Little, Brown, 306 pp, £17.50, September 1999, ISBN 0 316 64815 9

When he came to write his autobiography, the biographer Michael Holroyd decided to restrict himself to what he calls ‘a good walk-on part’, assigning the leading roles to his family. Avowedly happier with the lives of others than with his own, he remains as close as the circumstance permits to the condition of invisible watcher. Biography, he says, had formerly provided an ‘exit from myself’, and here he is, still, as far as is consistent with the product being autobiography, ‘stepping from my own life into other people’s where there seemed to be so much more going on’. Although he writes about his experiences at prep school, at Eton, as an articled clerk, a temporary officer and an aspiring writer, he does so almost apologetically, the lives of his relations having so much more going on in them.

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