A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters is the most unusual book I’ve read this year. Thinking about this review, I tried to come up with a novel to compare it to and the only one I can think of is Tristram Shandy.
Like Sterne’s novel, A Life Discarded is curious and whimsical. It’s a much shorter work than Tristram Shandy though and, to me, that’s a good thing.
It was the description of A Life Discarded that first caught my attention. A biographical detective story based on diaries found in a skip sounded intriguing.
The diarist is a young woman, interested in the arts and apparently a bit eccentric. She writes a lot — thousands of words every week — and her notebooks are illustrated with occasional drawings.
Much of her writing is about how she isn’t exploiting her talent for writing. This is partly because the diaries take up time that she could spend more creatively. Somewhere, the narrator admits he spent five years “studying diaries nobody wants in which nothing happens”. However, don’t let that put you off because, if anything, that’s kind of the point of A Life Discarded.
“Writing destroyed her writing”
It took me a while to get into this book. This was because, initially, I found it frustrating that the narrator didn’t put the diaries into chronological order and get on with cracking the case.
As the book progressed, I began to see method in the narrator’s madness. But I still questioned whether I wanted to continue reading because neither the diarist nor the narrator captured my interest.
However, the idea on which the book is based held my attention, perhaps more than the quirkiness of the writing. So, by the end, I found it an easier read and felt that, at least partly, I understood what the author was trying to achieve.
[Disclosure: I received a digital review copy of A Life Discarded by via Netgalley]
If you enjoy biographies/autobiographies, here are a few other titles reviewed on izzyreads.com