Ian Hamilton wrote two books on J. D. Salinger. Only one, this one, was published. The first, called J. D. Salinger: A Writing Life, despite undergoing many changes to accommodate Salinger was still victim of a legal ban. Salinger objected to the use of his letters, in the end to any use of them. The first book had to be shelved. With great enterprise and determination however, Ian Hamilton set to and wrote this book which is more, much more, than an emasculated version of the first.
For someone whose guarding of his privacy became so fanatical it is perhaps surprising how much Ian Hamilton was able to disinter about his earlier life. Until Salinger retreated completely into his bolt-hole outside Cornish in New Hampshire many aspects of his life, though it required assiduousness on the biographer's part, could be pieced together. A surprising portrait emerges; although there were early signs of renunciation, there were moments when his behaviour could almost be described as gregarious. The trail Hamilton follows is fascinating, and the story almost has the lineaments of a detective mystery with the denouement suitably being played out in Court.
'As highly readable and as literate an account of Salinger's work from a biographical perspective as we are likely to receive' The Listener
'A sophisticated exploration of Salinger's life and writing and a sustained debate about the nature of literary biography, its ethical legitimacy, its aesthetic relevance to a serious reading of a writer's books' Jonathan Raban, Observer
'Hamilton's book is as devious, as compelling, and in a covert way, as violent, as a story by Chandler' Victoria Glendinning, The Times
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Ian Hamilton sets himself a tough challenge by attempting a biography of a writer best known for his hermitic nature and for not having published anything in the last 30 years. Hamilton romps briskly through Salinger's life employing an annoying device throughout by which he records the debates between himself and his "biographer alter ego". This half- hearted attempt to problematise the nature of biography is, seemingly, to excuse the gaps in the text. It does not work well. At the end of In Search of JD Salinger we learn more about the lawsuit provoked by Hamilton's first attempt at this book. This, the edited version, is not the book nor, in a sense, the life that Hamilton wanted to produce. It is a poor substitute for what might have been. A life of Salinger has its interest, of course, but when that life has deliberately eschewed publicity in the interest of the art that such asceticism may create should we not focus on the work created? The literary criticism, when it comes, is clumsy and does not make up for either the paucity of facts or the lack of insight or real investigation into Salinger's silence. Hamilton's first book was to be entitled J D Salinger: A Writing Life-- he should have focused on that writing a little more closely. -- Mark ThwaiteAbout the Author:
Ian Hamilton was born in 1938, in King's Lynn, Norfolk, and educated at Darlington Grammar School and Keble College, Oxford. In 1962, he founded the influential poetry magazine, the Review, and he was later editor of the New Review. He also wrote biographies and journalism, mainly about literature and football. He died in 2001.
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