Title: A Life Discarded
Author: Alexander Masters
Published: May 5th 2016
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Length: 256 pages
Source: NetGalley eARC
Book Blurb (via Goodreads):
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 thrilling detective story, 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.
The premise of this book intrigued me so much that I didn’t even hesitate to pick this up. The mystery behind who the anonymous diarist is, the secrets that the biographer uncovers, I wanted to know everything!
Alexander Masters brings the anonymous author of 148 diaries to life, bringing to light the moments of their mundane life as he tries to unravel the mystery of who they were. When the diaries were discovered in a skip, abandoned and covered in mould, the challenge was too much not to take on. After years of study, several good leads and adventures to try and unravel the clues that he’s pieced together, Masters takes us on a journey of an ordinary life that has turned extraordinary through the diaries discovery.
The thing that I liked most about this book was that it was like reading a story within a story, following along as Masters uncovered facts that sometimes contradicted his assumptions. It’s a bittersweet tale, the diarist’s life is quite mundane and… well, sad, for the most part. They live a life unfulfilled and constantly thinking of what could have been.
There are pictures and illustrations dotted throughout the text and this only helps the reader to immerse themselves in the journey more. Masters style is easy and I found myself relaxing for several hours in a go to read.
The downside to reading about an anonymous author’s diaries of their life is that parts of it were… well, quite dull. For the most part, I was enthralled and wanted to know more about this person who spent a little time every day writing about their life. They filled 148 diaries and wrote millions of words!
Having said that, Masters did a great job of piecing his journey through the diaries together in an interesting way. His little anecdotes and adventures made for a great read, with passages from the diaries sprinkled throughout.
I can’t say much more because I don’t want to spoil the journey for other readers, but trust me when I say that even this book has a few unexpected twists in it. I found myself being pleasantly surprised several times over. It’s clear that Masters got great joy out of this journey, because it translates onto the pages for the reader.
While it’s not typically something I would think about reading, it drew me in and I was hooked. This isn’t your average biography and I would encourage everyone to give it a try.
About the Author
Alexander Masters is an author and screenwriter. He is the son of authors Dexter Masters and Joan Brady.