Katharine Whitehorn, ‘Selective Memory’

A new year and several resolutions. Well, more like plans. Or possibly thoughts. Anyway, one of them is to take the blog more seriously and actually put some effort in. So here we are, and fortunately I got a book for Christmas which prompted a thought or two.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a big fan of autobiographies, and I think I’ve worked out why. If the author has spent his or her life doing something in which I have no interest at all (eg being married to a footballer), then I’m bored silly. If, on the other hand, the author seems to have been living in a whirl of Doing Interesting Things then I sit there in a haze of wistful envy and get demoralised.

Katherine Whitehorn comes across as a woman I would very much like to polish off a bottle or two of wine with one summer’s evening, as she has wit, common sense, and a lifetime of Doing Interesting Things to talk about. I also very much hope that if I ever go through a bereavement I have even half her self-awareness and practicality. But after some time spent perusing her life I feel rather depressed, becuase I have achieved very little in comparison. This would be fine if it motivated me to go out into the world and find Interesting Things to do, but I don’t really know where to start. Though she does seem to have been on a hell of a lot of committees, which might lead to other things but presumably only if you find the right ones to be on. For which you probably have to be reasonably high-powered to start with.

You can tell it’s a columnist’s autobiography, as it has a tendency to fall into article-sized chunks which get a bit irritating. The other problem is the one it shares with ever other autobiography I can ever remember having come across, which is that it’s a lot more vividly-painted and interesting when it talks about childhood than most of the rest of the time. It’s as if everyone who embarks on the task of writing their life dives more enthusiastically into recreating that part of the past, even if the years in question weren’t particularly happy. I have a theory about this, which is that it’s more socially acceptable to discuss one’s childhood in company than it is to discuss the first five years of one’s marriage, or the decade where your job was going really well. This is possibly because we all had a childhood, whereas we can’t necessarily connect to other life experiences.

It’s been interesting to spend time with her, but I think I need to go back to some fiction for a while.


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