Mark Girouard has, he claims, scarcely ever thrown away a letter that he has received, and here he selects and reproduces 29 of them, ranging from his early childhood during the war to recent years, and uses them to characterise and memorialise their authors who range from the grand, the distinguished and the once or still famous, to the entirely ordinary, and from minor British gentry to Belgian monks, from American businessmen to African street traders. In the process a selective autobiography emerges as he discusses his relationship with this diverse crowd, and at the same time he paints a riveting picture of Bohemian cultural life in post-war Britain and Ireland. And the point of it all is that friendship has nothing at all to do with fame, success or wealth, but entirely with that sudden click of reciprocity, or pleasure in companionship, that makes life worth living.
So the reader can savour walks with John Betjeman through the ruins of blitzed London, or with Denys Lasdun through the concrete dramas of the National Theatre; be regaled with stories about the Gorbals by Ruby Milton, champion child dancer from Glasgow; eat disgusting rook pie off Bourbon gold plate with the Duke of Wellington; be touched by the surprising love life of Sir John Summerson, loftiest of scholars; grieve at the decline of Mariga Guiness, gifted, drunken and loveable queen of the Irish Georgians; and hear how a Chelsea landlady modelled half-naked for the figure of Fame riding her chariot on top of the arch at Hyde Park Corner, and myriad other life stories, poignant, moving and compelling in turn.
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