A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found In A Skip by Alexander Masters
Published by Fourth Estate
Published 24 March 2016
I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed it.
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
Unique, transgressive and as funny as its subject, A Life Discarded has all the suspense of a murder mystery. Written with his characteristic warmth, respect and humour, Masters asks you to join him in celebrating an unknown and important life left on the scrap heap.
A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation.
A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as ‘I’, is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful. Part thriller, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers’ obsessions: of ‘I’s need to record every second of life and of Masters’ pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.
One breezy afternoon, my friend Richard Grove was mooching around Cambridge with his shirt hanging out, when he came across this skip.
WHAT I THOUGHT
I really enjoyed A Life Discarded and thought the concept was very original for a biography. I thought the concept was very original – finding hundreds of diaries dumped in a skip and trying to figure out who they belonged to. This is a bit different from the usual biographies. I liked the sketches and snippets of handwriting samples scattered throughout A Life Discarded. This added a level of authenticity. I thought A Life Discarded was fascinating – what would I do in similar circumstances? There’s something fascinating and appealing about getting to stick your nose inside someone else’s life. I would probably have read the diaries out to sheer nosiness but wouldn’t have spared much thought to who they belonged to. I liked the way Masters goes about investigating the diaries and their potential owner, gradually finding little truths which added up to bigger piece of the puzzle. I’d recommend A Life Discarded if you’re looking for a biography that offers something a little different.