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A Life of My Own

Narrated by: Dame Penelope Wilton
Length: 9 hrs and 38 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (101 ratings)

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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin, read by Dame Penelope Wilton.

As one of the best biographers of her generation, Claire Tomalin has written about great novelists and poets to huge success. Now she turns to look at her own life.

This enthralling memoir follows her through triumph and tragedy in about equal measure, from the disastrous marriage of her parents and the often difficult wartime childhood that followed to her own marriage to the brilliant young journalist Nicholas Tomalin. When he was killed on assignment as a war correspondent, she was left to bring up their four children - and at the same time make her own career.

She writes of the intense joys of a fascinating progression as she became one of the most successful literary editors in London before discovering her true vocation as a biographer, alongside overwhelming grief at the loss of a child.

Writing with the élan and insight which characterize her biographies, Claire Tomalin sets her own life in a wider cultural and political context, vividly and frankly portraying the social pressures on a woman in the '50s and '60s and showing 'how it was for a European girl growing up in mid-20th-century England...carried along by conflicting desires to have children and a worthwhile working life.'

©2017 Claire Tomalin (P)2017 Penguin Books Ltd.

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Her autobiography as good as her biographies



Claire Tomalin’s strengths apparently come in industrial strength: a childhood steeped in culture (and parental disunity); a hugely developed intellect (her Cambridge First was inevitable); decades of success at a catalogue of high profile roles in literary journalism and editing; enormous energy and a capacity for prodigious and relentless hard work; five highly respected biographies (including Pepys & Mary Wollstonecraft)… And so it goes on.

These intellectual strengths have perhaps given her the dignified resilience in the face of tragedy. The death of her serially unfaithful husband Nicholas Tomalin when she was 40; the heart-breaking suicide of her exceptionally gifted golden daughter Susanna at the age of 22; a baby boy dead at 3 weeks (the coldest thing she’s ever touched); her only son disabled by spina bifida – just one of these would utterly destroy most of us. She describes the tragedies with elegance and not a shred of self-pity and her restrained treatment of bearing grief is extraordinarily moving.

But she does not want to be defined by these misfortunes. Work is her life-blood (‘Work Work Work’ is what drives her) and as she moves through her immensely successful career, her litany of friends and colleagues (and the frequent lists can be rather tedious) sounds like a Who’s Who of the literary world, sprung in large part from the inter-related network of high-flying Oxbridge graduates. But these names recreate the literary times.

Tomalin looks back on a working life spanning more than sixty years with all its social changes. That is interesting in itself, but her personal story (as in her biographies) makes the whole hugely involving. The story of her father coming to England and of the ultimately tragic marriage between him and Tomalin’s talented musician-composer mother would make a brilliant biography by itself. At 84 Tomalin says she’ll be beginning another book as soon as she’s finished this one. I’m sure she will – and I look forward to her finishing it.

Penelope Wilton is a highly appropriate reader with her perfect English voice, but I would have like a bit more vigour, a quality I imagine Tomalin possesses in spadefuls. The narration didn't need spadefuls, but just a little more vigour and variation.




9 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Disapponting.

This potentially interesting book was spoiled for me by the narrator. I had hoped that such an experienced actor would make this biography come alive for me. Instead, she made it dull and lifeless. I was irritated by error after error. In many paragraphs she made inappropriate pauses in sentences where the author had not intended them, and on many occasions made no pause at the end o a sentence. She often put the stress on the wrong word in a sentence, thus changing the feeling, and therefore the meaning, of what she was reading.

The whole was read with perfect diction; I heard every word clearly, but even so I struggled to stay to the end of the book just because I was interested in the story that the author had to tell.

Yes, I was disappointed. Not good enough, Penelope.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Very Revelatory, and very enjoyable. Thank you.

Beautifully and lucidly written and spoken So enjoyed this book I could not stop listening for the length of it's revelations. Cannot agree with some last political pronounced summing up Standrad views which need examining and ualifying.Well contained but predictable from the provenance. But we fought the war for freedoms to disagree. I shall listen to this over and over again. A very attractive and creative woman.

1 person found this helpful

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Marred by a surprisingly flat reading

Claire Tomalins autobiography is partially wonderful, marred by a surprisingly flat reading from Penelope Wilton Wilton, and also by Tomalins increasing tendency towards endless lists of friends, neighbours and professional contacts. They read almost like the obligatory ‘oh my gosh I hope I haven’t forgotten anybody-lists’. But perhaps this is for source-purposes for others people’s future biographies and histories, to show who was where doing what at any given time. However that may be, those sections make for poor listening. But the rest of the autobiography more than makes up for it, and is well worth a listen!

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An essential addition

I’d had this recommended to me, and read other’s reviews before taking the plunge - and am so glad I did.
A fascinating life - eventful, ups and downs but this is no mis-lit - , and told by an expert in the field.
The writing is so economic, with much information and emotion conveyed beautifully.
Dame Penelope Wilton has been a lifelong favourite of mine, and her reading skills match those of her acting.

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A life of ones own is never lived in isolation

At times heartbreaking while describing her own losses
And uplifting in days of triumph
Great works have been produced by this very intelligent, diligent writer but her account of it becomes rather like a shopping list of names ,titles events

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this book. Highly recommend this book.

Well read and a wonderful story of a difficult life . So sad in places, but what strength of charzcter. Tom to me has done so well because of his amazing family and his determination. Great read.

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Well Hello Claire Tomalin!

What a lovely person you are and it was pure pleasure to listen to your story. I am sorry for the awful tragedies that befell you but thank you for your honesty in including them.
As for any name dropping complaints - ridiculous!
I am a little green though, of your intellect and courage. The sixties was a complicated and difficult time to grow up in.

The only pity was the narration. The wonderful Penelope Wilton sounds rushed and anxious. This lessened towards the end of the book, perhaps because I became used her style or perhaps because she realised she had made it within the alloted time.

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Disappointing

What did you like best about A Life of My Own? What did you like least?

We get some sense of the period but Claire Tomalin writes far less well about her own life than she does, for example, when exploring the lives of Dickens and EllenTurnan. She's very inhibited when talking about herself and her friends which is understandable but begs the question of why wrote an autobiography?

Would you be willing to try another book from Claire Tomalin? Why or why not?

I've read most of her books and would recommend them all, except this one.

What aspect of Dame Penelope Wilton’s performance might you have changed?

Not much. It's a bit timid but that's probably fitting. The whole thing is terribly straight-laced.

Could you see A Life of My Own being made into a movie or a TV series? Who would the stars be?

No.

Any additional comments?

Curious that someone who writes so perceptively about others struggles to be frank about her own experiences.

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Lovely story well told

A wonderfully enjoyable story and a beautiful insight into an interesting life. Lots of encounters with well known cultural figures but I never felt as if names were being dropped for the sake of it. it has joy and tragedy along with gentle humour. I enjoyed the narration and the only observation I would make is that just occasionally the edits were a little obvious with pauses a bit too short or long interrupting the flow.