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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Memoirs of a Literary Forger
Narrated by: Jane Curtin
Length: 2 hrs and 40 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (17 ratings)

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Summary

Now a major motion picture starring Melissa McCarthy - Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than 300 letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others. 

Before turning to her life of crime - running a one-woman forgery business out of a phone booth in a Greenwich Village bar and even dodging the FBI - Lee Israel had a legitimate career as an author of biographies. Her first book on Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times best seller, and her second, on the late journalist and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines.

But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio, Lee made a bold and irreversible career change: inspired by a letter she’d received once from Katharine Hepburn, and armed with her considerable skills as a researcher and celebrity biographer, she began to forge letters in the voices of literary greats. Between 1990 and 1991, she wrote more than 300 letters in the voices of, among others, Dorothy Parker, Louise Brooks, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward - and sold the forgeries to memorabilia and autograph dealers.

Exquisitely written, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “a slender, sordid, and pretty damned fabulous book about her misadventures” (The New York Times Book Review).

©2008 Lee Israel (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

Critic reviews

“Lee Israel is deft, funny, and eminently entertaining…[in her] gentle parable about the modern culture of fame, about those who worship it, those who strive for it, and those who trade in its relics.” (The Associated Press) 

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Profile Image for Steve M
  • Steve M
  • 06-12-18

A fast, fun listen. (The movie is better.)

This is a fun, fast listen. Lee Israel is a terrific writer with lively, vivid descriptions and wonderful turns of phrase. It's amazing how closely the movie follows this book. With, of course, some added material and relationships. Israel quotes extensively from her own phony letters. A little of this goes a long way. It's clear she was (justly?) proud of her cleverness, but after a while, enough is enough. She certainly is unrepentant, which is almost admirable, except she was, after all, ripping people off. The movie is superb, makes Israel a more likable person, and gives the same info. I guess this functions mainly to fill in some details and as a cultural curiosity. Jane Curtain is swell--the right amount of annoyance and swagger--but annoyingly pronounces Noel Coward like the American way of pronouncing the holiday. I've never heard his name pronounced this way.

2 people found this helpful

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  • LS
  • 24-01-20

Great story, writing tried a little too hard.

Let me start by saying Jane Curtin is a treasure and really showed her talents here. She gave the story perfect texture and tone.

I bought this book having already seen the movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought the book might go even deeper, but it didn’t have to. It’s a short book and the movie truly covered it.

My only disappointment is I found Ms. Israel’s writing to be a bit cloying. She was clearly enamored by the writers who’s letters she forged, and in my opinion, took too many pains to write in their style. It may have been unconscious, but it didn’t feel like her own voice. Her true voice and expression came through only occasionally. Given that this was a memoir I wanted to hear Lee, not Dorothy or Noel or whom ever. If only she’d gained the confidence to allow us to see Lee and not hide behind others.

Regardless, this story is incredible hi-jinx and it’s worth a listen.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 24-02-19

The most interesting since

This is the most interesting story I've heard of everyday people living in a city since The New Yorkers. If you've read The New Yorkers, you'll enjoy this one!!! The narration is great!! I do also recommend The New Yorkers if you haven't read it. Definitely look it up!!

1 person found this helpful

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  • washoearc@msn.com
  • 05-11-18

Super fun!

Jane Curtin's performance is superb. She brought to life this nearly unbelievable story giving voice to Lee's life. I especially enjoyed Lee's letters. Great work indeed!

1 person found this helpful

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  • James M. Patton
  • 19-05-20

I learned so much. Curtain the perfect narrator.

I chose to read this after seeing the fantastic movie. This book, while under 3 hours, does a great job of giving more detail about the story told in the movie.

And to have Jane Curtain read it after seeing her tour de force performance as Lee Israel's agent in the movie, it is the perfect companion to the film. I wish there was more!!

For the record, I think, while it may steer its way more into fiction, that it would be great to have Curtain have a film of her own about the agent character. There were so many scenes where we walked in and out on her character in the movie. I would love to see either more of the movie as a whole (all of the characters) or at least Curtain. The character was so richly played that I thought it truly deserved 2 hours of its own. An Oscar wouldn't hurt either.


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  • Brentin
  • 01-05-20

Entertaining and witty

Jane Curtin's narration is top notch. My only real criticism as I think the letters lose something in the audible format.

I would have liked to have more background of her early years, and an epilogue about the end of her life.

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  • Claudine
  • 12-12-19

Why?

I listened to the book and it started out kind of interesting, then was very tedious as we heard fake letters read to us ad nauseam. Maybe if I knew anything about the celebrities in the letters they may have interested me, but they weren't and they didnt. The book finally started moving again but ended quickly. I was left wondering why I had given money to someone that committed these crimes after paying so little for them. Then I think about the black woman who is actually serving real jail time for lying on a school application to get her child into a better school district. Yean, not empathizing with Ms. Isreal at all.

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  • Cecilia Barther
  • 02-09-19

Good but...

I can't wrap my head around how deceitful some people can be. Though she didn't seem to care about her own credibility I found it disturbing how she was able to deceive so many people without showing any remorse.

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  • Lisa
  • 28-05-19

unimpressed

not impressed wish to return this book so I can purchase another off my wish list

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  • Raymond N. Budd
  • 25-04-19

Dry Material

The movie was definitely better than the book. Lee Israel’s writing is very boring and doesn’t reveal emotion in this autobiography. Melissa McCarthy’s performance made her more relatable.