Reviewed by Martha Patterson
In this shining and hard-to-put down memoir, journalist Deirdre Bair writes of interviews she conducted with playwright Samuel Beckett (WAITING FOR GODOT) and feminist Simone de Beauvoir (THE SECOND SEX) in Paris during the 1970s and ‘80s, while completing biographies of both.
Bair had never authored a biography before, but Beckett, his interest piqued by a letter she wrote to him, agreed to be her subject. But she didn’t expect his wiliness in making arrangements for their meetings and being slowed in her progress towards completion of her manuscript. And Beckett was, apparently, miffed when she was introduced to other friends of his during her research, since he wanted to keep these acquaintances to himself.
De Beauvoir could be gruff and intimidating with her no-nonsense approach to being interviewed. Upon their first meeting, which happened on de Beauvoir’s birthday, and for which Bair had thoughtfully brought an armful of flowers, de Beauvoir told Bair, “What is a birthday anyway but just another day? Shall we get to work?” *
Beckett and de Beauvoir didn’t even like each other, despite both being celebrated authors and only living blocks from one another in France’s capital, and Bair’s awkwardness in letting each of them know of the work she was doing with the other caused a few instances of delicate treading on her part.
Between provisions made for the care of her husband and kids back in America, frequent flights back and forth to Europe, and being hit on sexually by male contacts in the publishing world, Bair manages to salvage telling and humor-filled material anyway from her encounters, and this book belongs on any budding journalist’s bookshelf, or the reading list of those enamoured with Paris and bestselling writers.
* Footnote, page 217 of PARISIAN LIVES
About Martha Patterson
Martha Patterson writes poetry, plays, fiction, and essays. Her work has been published by Smith & Kraus, Applause Books, the Sheepshead Review, Silver Birch Press, Pioneer Drama Service, Syndrome Magazine, and others. She has degrees in Theatre from Mt. Holyoke College and Emerson College, and lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She is addicted to National Public Radio and loves being surrounded by her books and laptop. You can learn more about Martha over on her website https://mpatterson125933.wixsite.com/martha-patterson-