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Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education

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Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Sybille Bedford's latest novel walks the borderline between autobiography and fiction. It picks up where A Legacy leaves off, leading us from the Kaiser's Germany into the wider Europe of the 1920s and the limbo between world wars. The narrator, Billi, tells the story of her apprenticeship to life, and of her many teachers: her father, a p Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Sybille Bedford's latest novel walks the borderline between autobiography and fiction. It picks up where A Legacy leaves off, leading us from the Kaiser's Germany into the wider Europe of the 1920s and the limbo between world wars. The narrator, Billi, tells the story of her apprenticeship to life, and of her many teachers: her father, a pleasure-loving German baron; her brilliant, beautiful, erratic English mother; and later, on the Mediterranean coast of France, the Huxleys, Aldous and Maria.


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Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Sybille Bedford's latest novel walks the borderline between autobiography and fiction. It picks up where A Legacy leaves off, leading us from the Kaiser's Germany into the wider Europe of the 1920s and the limbo between world wars. The narrator, Billi, tells the story of her apprenticeship to life, and of her many teachers: her father, a p Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Sybille Bedford's latest novel walks the borderline between autobiography and fiction. It picks up where A Legacy leaves off, leading us from the Kaiser's Germany into the wider Europe of the 1920s and the limbo between world wars. The narrator, Billi, tells the story of her apprenticeship to life, and of her many teachers: her father, a pleasure-loving German baron; her brilliant, beautiful, erratic English mother; and later, on the Mediterranean coast of France, the Huxleys, Aldous and Maria.

30 review for Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    This is a great book and I’m adding it to my favorites. It’s an autobiographical novel of the youth of the British writer Sybille Bedford (1911-2006). By “autobiographical novel” I mean most of the events, people and places are true but it is fictionalized. There really isn’t a plot other than the sequence of events in her life. It’s fundamentally a story of the relationship between this young woman and her mother. As we learn in the book, while at times her mother could be loving and caring, mu This is a great book and I’m adding it to my favorites. It’s an autobiographical novel of the youth of the British writer Sybille Bedford (1911-2006). By “autobiographical novel” I mean most of the events, people and places are true but it is fictionalized. There really isn’t a plot other than the sequence of events in her life. It’s fundamentally a story of the relationship between this young woman and her mother. As we learn in the book, while at times her mother could be loving and caring, much of the time she was simply “nucking futs.” In the review below, as I summarize her early life I am also giving away the fundamental “plot” so I should write: SPOILERS BELOW Sybille had one of the most international upbringings you can imagine. She was born in Germany near the French and Swiss borders and lived her formative years at various times in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and the UK. Her father was much older than her mother and he was loving but distant. He collected art and turned their house into a Renaissance museum. But let’s get to her mother: if Sybille grew up today, social service agencies would have a thick file on her. Her mother was never quite sure what she was supposed to do with a child. (I’m reminded of Stoner’s wife in John William’s novel of that name.) She would visit a bachelor’s apartment and leave Sybille in her baby carriage in the hallway. She would simply take off to visit and travel for weeks, leaving Sybille with strangers she met on the beach or with hotel maids. At a very young age Sybille ran away from home (by train) to live with her half-sister and husband; after a desperate search involving police, her parents said – “ok you can stay there.” Her schooling and sometimes private tutoring were sporadic --- often nobody bothered to enroll her in school. After her German father’s death, because her mother was not a German citizen, Sybille was at times a ward of the German state and her mother, then living in Italy or France, tended to ignore the thick legal packages that arrived. After her husband died, Sybille’s mother was almost engaged to two men at once; she finally chose an architect/designer 15 years her junior. As Sybille got older it seems like her mother remembered once in a while that she had a child. A letter would arrive commanding Sybille to pack up, travel by train and come to live with her mother. Sometimes the only way Sybille knew where she was going was by the postmark on the envelope (it was France). Most of the story takes place in Sanary-sur-Mer, where she ended up living on-and-off for 14 years. That small town in France was chosen because her mother and her new husband were headed for Spain but her mother tired of the train ride and decided “let’s stay here.” This was not considered part of the French Rivera in those days but it attracted artists and offbeat folks including the Aldous Huxleys, Colette, Thomas Mann, and the artist Moise Kisling and his wife Renee. Man Ray took photos of her mother. These were the people Sybille grew up with. Many of these artistic folks were avant-garde in their lifestyles – the Kislings, for example, had a ménage-a-trois going, one woman; two men. From a very early age Sybille was exposed to a world of unstable adult relationships. She writes of this instability “Was it never possible for everybody to be happy? Did anything good have to be at someone else’s expense?” Hints of Sybille’s sexual orientation began at an early age. As a young girl in Germany she received permission to invite her three best friends over for lunch “at the museum.” The cook and the maid were shocked (but not her parents) to see they were all boys! She asked permission to act as an altar boy at her local parish and did so until the bishop put a stop to it. Although some who have written about her say she was bisexual (and she did have experiences with men at an early age) in a very late-in-life interview, when asked about significant others, she only mentioned three long-term partners, all women. In the book she writes that her favorite quote is one that she memorized at a very young age: “Si on est amis, il n’y a acune difference si on fait l’amour avec.” Which she interpreted in a non-literal translation as “If it’s a friend, it’ll be all right to make love together.” She actually married a British man to obtain British citizenship. This was the 1930’s when anti-Semitism started rearing its ugly head in German and Italy and her inheritance was frozen in Germany. Since Sybille was still a German citizen and she had Jewish ancestry on her mother’s side, friends arranged for the marriage of convenience and the only result was that she dropped her German name (von Schoenebeck) and kept his name, Bedford. As an older teenager, in today’s lingo, we would say she “went clubbing” nightly, having experiences probably with both men and women. She would come home at dawn to her morphine-addicted mother, who was in despair over an affair her husband had (the one 15 years younger than her). For years Sybille was caught in a terrible position, torn between giving her mother ‘tough love’ and fighting with her to get her into rehab (paid for by their wealthy neighbors) and at other times giving in to her mother’s screaming and begging for drugs and becoming her enabler. Sybille Bedford did not write a large number of books and those were quite varied, so it’s hard to say what “type of writer” she was. Most of her writing was for newspapers and magazines. She spent many years living with her mother’s friends in London and at age 16 she regularly attended court cases as entertainment. Undoubtedly this led to her work as a trial correspondent. She covered many high-profile cases: Jack Ruby’s trial for Life magazine; the Auschwitz war crimes trials and the Lady Chatterley obscenity prosecution. She wrote a book about legal systems in various European countries, which became a textbook. She wrote a biography of Aldous Huxley. She loved food and wine and became known as a travel writer with a gastronomical flair. Perhaps her best known book is a travel book to Mexico “A Visit to Don Octavio.” In a New Yorker piece on Bedford, Joan Acocella wrote that it was the only travel book that ever made her cry. Written when she was 78, Jigsaw, nominated for the 1989 Booker, is to an extent a follow-up to her first novel, A Legacy, published in 1956. Both are the story of her relationship with her mother. I wrote a long review because I found this book fascinating; both for its writing and the story. photos top to bottom: librarything.com hotelroomsearch.com (Sanary-sur-Mer) elpais.com

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    Another one from the 1989 Booker shortlist, this lightly fictionalised autobiographical novel was my first experience of reading Bedford and a very enjoyable read. The book describes her unconventional childhood between the wars. The story starts in Germany - when her parents divorced she lived with her father in a Schloss near the French and Swiss borders - her father was a connoisseur and collector - slightly impoverished but reluctant to sell his prized possessions. When her father died she joi Another one from the 1989 Booker shortlist, this lightly fictionalised autobiographical novel was my first experience of reading Bedford and a very enjoyable read. The book describes her unconventional childhood between the wars. The story starts in Germany - when her parents divorced she lived with her father in a Schloss near the French and Swiss borders - her father was a connoisseur and collector - slightly impoverished but reluctant to sell his prized possessions. When her father died she joined her mother, initially in Italy, where she was starting a relationship with the much younger Alessandro that led to an unlikely marriage. The young Sybille was a ward of a German court and as part of an agreement with her trustees it was decided that she would be educated in England, where the friends entrusted with finding a school decided to educate her themselves. Her mother and her young husband fled Mussolini's Italy and settled in the village of Sanary-sur-Mer on the South coast of France, and the rest of Sybille's childhood was spent alternating between Sanary and London. The story is evocative and full of intriguing details and joie de vivre - she mixed with some interesting people including Aldous Huxley who also settled in Sanary. Others appear pseudonymously to protect their reputations. The dominant character remains her mother whose descent into drug addiction is described in the final part of the story.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ben Winch

    Jigsaw crept up on me over several weeks and didn’t reveal its true power until its last page. But I won’t call it a revelation, since to suggest that Sybille Bedford orchestrated it as such, or withheld information to that end, would cheapen it, and I don’t believe she did. So let’s just say that for 350 pages I had thought I was reading a book about its author’s relationship with her mother, until on page 351 I saw it was something more. I was filled by a surge of love, impersonal love, as thou Jigsaw crept up on me over several weeks and didn’t reveal its true power until its last page. But I won’t call it a revelation, since to suggest that Sybille Bedford orchestrated it as such, or withheld information to that end, would cheapen it, and I don’t believe she did. So let’s just say that for 350 pages I had thought I was reading a book about its author’s relationship with her mother, until on page 351 I saw it was something more. I was filled by a surge of love, impersonal love, as though he and I had become a link in the chain of the brotherhood of man. With this line my heart broke. I read on, in tears, through 150 plain words to the end. What had happened? How had she done it? I went back, found the tipping point: that line, the hinge on which the whole book had rested. And I realised that somehow Jigsaw had increased its claim on my heart parabolically, from early near-indifference brightened only or mostly by the bizarre nature of the events related, through slow-rising admiration for the surefooted grace with which Bedford painted her settings and characters, to flat-out awe at how she’d quietly insinuated herself and won my love. I’d say I don’t know how she did it but maybe I do. Maybe, against all odds, she was simply herself, and told her story as close to truthfully as basic decorum would allow. But as to how and why that story achieved such power, I’m in the dark. Against the odds, then, Jigsaw is magic, it’s art, it’s a novel. And it proves that fiction is not the essential component in any of these feats; creativity is. To recreate her strange, neglected, privileged childhood (the neglect and privilege stemmed both from the same thing, her independence), that is Bedford’s humble yet grand achievement. Because after all, the things a writer experiences are not always or even generally those that are easiest to describe. Or yes, let’s say they’re easy, but ease of description does not necessarily, or even generally, produce power. It’s the act of conjuring – from nothing, from dreams, from the mind’s eye – that makes us work at describing. So, generally, I read novels for immersion, and biographies or autobiographies for information. Sybille Bedford immerses us in her subject with the skill of a novelist, and reminds us that fiction and non-fiction are not mutually exclusive but two points on a continuum; and crucially, that wherever you are on that continuum you’re still an artist, so long as you live and breathe your work, and it too lives and breathes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    One of the great books. The memoirs of a girl of 20 or so, based frankly on Sybille's own life, who lives on a small estate in Baden, then shuttles between the south of France, London, Berlin, and various country cottages in England, all the time avoiding formal education and most of the time love, but with astonishing portraits of her father, a Frenchified German gentleman, her mother, something of a bolter - her earliest memory is of being parked in a pram while her mother has an afternoon wit One of the great books. The memoirs of a girl of 20 or so, based frankly on Sybille's own life, who lives on a small estate in Baden, then shuttles between the south of France, London, Berlin, and various country cottages in England, all the time avoiding formal education and most of the time love, but with astonishing portraits of her father, a Frenchified German gentleman, her mother, something of a bolter - her earliest memory is of being parked in a pram while her mother has an afternoon with her lover, a Danish novelist once thought promising - and the various characters she attaches herself to. One of the greatest female (or male) bildungsromans ever written - with great stuff about food as well as love. It's also one of the only novels to treat the 1920s and early 1930s as they were and as they felt, and not as the I*R*O*N*I*C prelude to WWII, the holocaust, etc etc. Difficult to describe its excellence - here is how she connects this book to the story of the hero/victim of The Legacy. In "real life," the Jewish-German boy who went mad because he was sent back to the sadistic military school was the narrator's uncle, who didn't go mad, but became a German cavalry officer and married. "How far was he maimed [by the school experience?:]. Too late to say. Eccentric he must have been. Animals were his interest and he had a great way with them. Wild animals. He kept wolves and used to give them jewelled collars for Xhristmas, or so my father told me without turning a hair. Sapphires (were they really?) for the wolves, NOT for the wife; my father's tone indicated that this was a mistake." If you hear the tone of Anthony Powell in the prose, you are right - they are about the same age - but the human knowledge and involvement is so much greater with Bedford.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    There is so much in this wonderful memoir. Rich in settings, personal dynamics, food, wine and atmosphere. We follow Sybille (Billi) from a childhood of constant uprooting. Her early life with her eccentric, isolated father, Maximilian von Schoenebeck, in Germany to a life with her beautiful, spontaneous mother, Elisabeth Bernhardt, in Italy and France. She is sent to England for schooling and a stay with adult friends. They are cheerful, easy-going, failing artists who are good to her but not l There is so much in this wonderful memoir. Rich in settings, personal dynamics, food, wine and atmosphere. We follow Sybille (Billi) from a childhood of constant uprooting. Her early life with her eccentric, isolated father, Maximilian von Schoenebeck, in Germany to a life with her beautiful, spontaneous mother, Elisabeth Bernhardt, in Italy and France. She is sent to England for schooling and a stay with adult friends. They are cheerful, easy-going, failing artists who are good to her but not looking for foster parent roles. Her sporadic education with short-lived tutors and a life fragmented with visits to her mother and her Italian partner, Alessandro, in Italy at intervals. Then moving to a London bed-sit and struggling for money. Billi's ambition to become a writer is nurtured as she is surrounded by a social community of vibrant, stimulating artists, exiles, writers and intellectuals in the Mediterranean. She is exposed to a world of unconventional living and thought. I did find this a hard book to rate. I wavered between five and four stars. Beautiful writing which details a life which is extraordinary.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cera

    Wow. Okay, this was amazing. And it was in part amazing because I read all of her earlier fiction first, so I had a very good sense of how she was reworking her actual past and how she was reworking the fictional usages she had already made of her actual past. Is this a post-modern novel? I mean, it is a novel, and yet it's a memoir; the authorial voice talks about the ways she has used the events she's describing in her previous novels, and ... I don't think I can do it all justice in this review Wow. Okay, this was amazing. And it was in part amazing because I read all of her earlier fiction first, so I had a very good sense of how she was reworking her actual past and how she was reworking the fictional usages she had already made of her actual past. Is this a post-modern novel? I mean, it is a novel, and yet it's a memoir; the authorial voice talks about the ways she has used the events she's describing in her previous novels, and ... I don't think I can do it all justice in this review, it would need an essay. It was poignant, beautifully written, very intimate, and absolutely emotionally true, even if some pieces of it were pure fiction. The sense of being in the company of an elderly woman looking back on her life and describing it both as she experienced it in the moment and as she sees it now -- that was intense and lovely. I'm so glad I read this, despite the sorrow of some of the sections.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rita Marie

    This book is subtitled "a biographical novel," and for me that was an insurmountable problem. As a novel, it's tedious and lifeless -- no plot, story, character development, nothing. Reading it as an autobiography, I was constantly questioning which events actually happened and which were invented or enhanced. We all remember events differently from others present at the same time, but this book seems to have the intention to deliberately monkey with the facts. So, if it's not really a novel and This book is subtitled "a biographical novel," and for me that was an insurmountable problem. As a novel, it's tedious and lifeless -- no plot, story, character development, nothing. Reading it as an autobiography, I was constantly questioning which events actually happened and which were invented or enhanced. We all remember events differently from others present at the same time, but this book seems to have the intention to deliberately monkey with the facts. So, if it's not really a novel and not really a biography, what is it? Boring, I'd say. Had I read some of the author's earlier works, I might feel quite differently, of course.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education is the first book by Sybille Bedford which I have picked up.  It straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction, presenting as it does an exaggerated version of Bedford's own childhood and young adulthood.  Jigsaw was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1989. Bedford was born in Germany, and educated in Italy, England, and France.  Jigsaw subsequently takes place in each of these countries.  The novel-cum-memoir has been split into five sections, which l Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education is the first book by Sybille Bedford which I have picked up.  It straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction, presenting as it does an exaggerated version of Bedford's own childhood and young adulthood.  Jigsaw was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1989. Bedford was born in Germany, and educated in Italy, England, and France.  Jigsaw subsequently takes place in each of these countries.  The novel-cum-memoir has been split into five sections, which largely follow the author's geographical journey.  It begins with a series of her earliest memories.  Whilst in the Danish seaside town of Skagen as a toddler, the narrator recollects: 'What I wanted was to get into the water.  But between the sand and the water there lay a thick band of small fish, dead, wet, glistening fish.  The whole of me shrivelled with disgust.  Nanny, who wore boots and stockings, picked me up and lifted me over the fish.  I was in the water - coolness, lightness, dissolving, bliss: this is the sea, I am the sea, here is where I belong.  For ever.' We move from Denmark to a southern corner of Germany, where the three-year-old narrator is living with her parents in 1914.  The uncertainty of war forces the family to stay with relatives in Berlin the following year, in a 'large, dark house, over-upholstered and over-heated; the inhabitants never stopped eating.  Some were exceedingly kind, some were critical of our presence.'  The context, both historical and social, has been woven in well, and it proved to be the element which I was most interested in within Jigsaw; the inflation of German currency, convoluted train journeys during wartime, moving around a lot due to money troubles, and being sent away to school particularly fascinated me.  I also enjoyed reading about the differences which the narrator discusses between places which she had lived in.  I took in, with interest, the allusions Bedford made of not feeling as though she had a homeland, as she moved around so much as a child.  However, the emphasis upon this element was spoken about far too briefly for my personal taste. The narrator is open about her relationships with her parents.  She realises that her father loved her in retrospect, 'but - this is the unhappy part - he could not show his affection, only his anxieties, his fretting, his prohibitions...  And I with some curious callousness, with the arrogance of a lively, ignorant, if intelligent child, felt impatience with him and contempt.  He also created fear; perhaps because he was not reachable by any give and take of talk, perhaps because of the aura of solitariness about him.  Today we might call it alienation.'  Her interactions with her mother too are far from what she would have liked: 'I was interested - and influenced - by my mother's general opinions, but dreaded being alone with her.  She could be ironical and often impatient; she did not suffer little fools gladly.  That I was her own made not a scrap of difference...  Compassionate in her principles, she was high-handed even harsh in her daily dealings.  Between her and my father there had come much open ill feeling...  So in my early years (our rapport came later) I was afraid of my mother, more afraid of her, and in a different way, than I was of my father.'  Her parents go on to divorce when she is quite young, and she has to deal with the consequences. There is a warmth, even a chattiness, to the narrative voice in Jigsaw.  Whilst compelling in its way, it never became something that I did not want to put down.  Not knowing what was true and what was fabricated, or exaggerated, was something that niggled at me.  Some of the scenes in Jigsaw seemed far too strange to be real, but there was no way of being sure.  Another thing which I really did not enjoy about the book was the continuous name-dropping which Bedford embarks upon rather early on.  I do not feel as though these people, most of whom were mentioned only as asides and not part of the current scenes or plot, added a great deal to proceedings.  This, like other parts of the book, felt rather superficial. Jigsaw is not a badly written piece, but I cannot say that I enjoyed Bedford's prose.  The phrasing and descriptions which she employed were largely fine, but there was no vividness or vivacity to the things which she described.  There was less description in Jigsaw than I was expecting, as it is far more focused upon people than place; the latter often quickly becomes a dull background, and is barely discussed.  Some elements were sped through; others were talked about at length, and therefore felt repetitive.   With a slightly different approach taken by the author, or a clear delineation between what is real or imagined, I feel as though I could have really admired this book.  As it was, I found it a little off and jarring; I would have personally preferred to read a straight biography, and not some strange, unknown mixture of biography and novel.  Jigsaw simply failed to stand out for me.  On the face of it, it sounded like a fascinating concept, but its execution left something to be desired for me as a reader.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This is an autobiographical novel written by Sybille Bedford. There are some books we do regret when they end, this is a clear example of this statement.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Pipkia

    I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. For one, although it is in all the essentials very Bedford-esque, I found it very different to A Legacy (to which this book is purportedly a sequel) or her other works that I’ve read. Secondly, because it’s not quite nonfiction and it’s not quite fiction and I don’t know how to process everything that happens in light of that. And lastly, because everyone seems to be focusing on the coming-of-age aspect while all I can think about is the brilliant I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. For one, although it is in all the essentials very Bedford-esque, I found it very different to A Legacy (to which this book is purportedly a sequel) or her other works that I’ve read. Secondly, because it’s not quite nonfiction and it’s not quite fiction and I don’t know how to process everything that happens in light of that. And lastly, because everyone seems to be focusing on the coming-of-age aspect while all I can think about is the brilliant but tragic portrayal of (view spoiler)[ her mother’s morphine addiction (hide spoiler)] in the last hundred pages. It was an incredible book. But I still need to figure out how it and I fit together.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Beautifully written. Heartbreaking. Matter-of-fact, yet dream-like, intimate and delicate in so many aspects. A mesmerising work and a delightful surprise. Mulled it over and decided for 5 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    An elegiacal autobiography to a dysfunctional childhood, set in the chic world of the South of France. Poor little Sybille is a survivor, all right. Her brilliant, beautiful, eccentric mother is well-meaning (or is she?), but her struggles threaten to eclipse any happiness her daughter can find for herself. Glamour has a dark side.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Helen Castle

    Twenty years ago, a good friend of mine recommended this book to me. I recently recommended it to my daughter. When she said it was the best book she had ever read I decided I had to re-read it. It's not only as intriguing and fresh as when I read it two decades ago, but Bedford's power to bring relationships to life is all the more impressive.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    This will be a bad review for an amazing book. Because all I can say is: Amazing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Colin Davison

    Reading may be a guilty pleasure. Is there a phrase for guilty indifference? Jigsaw proved to induce the latter. I finished the story of Sybille Bedford’s childhood and adolescence with the thought that it was my fault I’d been bored and largely indifferent to her characters. The story recounts a chaotic upbringing among a privileged, artisitic but rather impoverished set in Germany, Italy, London and particularly the south of France for about 15 years after the First World War. The frontispiece an Reading may be a guilty pleasure. Is there a phrase for guilty indifference? Jigsaw proved to induce the latter. I finished the story of Sybille Bedford’s childhood and adolescence with the thought that it was my fault I’d been bored and largely indifferent to her characters. The story recounts a chaotic upbringing among a privileged, artisitic but rather impoverished set in Germany, Italy, London and particularly the south of France for about 15 years after the First World War. The frontispiece and an introduction by the writer describers the book uncertainly as ‘a novel’ ‘an unsentimental education’ and ‘a biographical novel.’ That ambiguity was the start of my problem, in that in large part the story lacked the drama of a novel and the draw of a biography of someone about whom I was curious to know more. Sometimes an intriguing figure is introduced – then kept in the shadows. Bedford writes of a reportedly well-known but unnamed judge with a gambling addiction and who is involved in a secret affair, but adds that of his ‘motives, commitments, feelings I know nothing.’ Aldous Huxley and the poet Roy Campbell appear but the author declines to describe them – because she has written elsewhere about the former and the latter has written extensively about himself. Maybe so, but for me, who has not had the benefit of reading any of that material, that was not good enough. The main subject is Bedford herself, and nor was I familiar with her other work. Had I been, the childhood scenes might have acquired more significance in helping to understand the mature woman known from her fiction. As it was, they seemed merely mundane, however well described. The latter part of the book is spent at Sanary near Toulon among artists and liberal-minded intellectuals leading a hedonistic lifestyle with few responsibilities. ‘We seemed to be growing younger, as though we were living a second youth,’ writes the still youthful author. Dismissing Mussolini and the idea that there could be another European war, Bedford’s mother settles into a gentle, indulgent, mentally stimulating, naïve indolence. As a colour feature about a halcyon period, those pages may have charmed many; alas not me. But three stars? Odd incidents stand out, like the young Billi (Sybille) setting up a bogus collection for the Red Cross and pocketing the money, but it’s really in the last 100 pages that the book comes to life, with the inevitable breakdown of insecure relationships and in particular her mother’s tortured addiction to morphine. Was it never possible for everybody to be happy? Did anything good have to be at somebody else’s expense? Bedford interpolates at various points. Do all women carry the seeds of their own destruction? Back to that guilty feeling that I’d missed the underlying poignancy of the book. But it took a long time to discover what I might have been missing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Val

    Is this a memoir or a novel? Sybille Bedford tells us to what extent her previous work was invented and says that this one is true, apart from some changes of name to protect certain reputations and an allowance for childhood memories of events being incomplete. As a memoir it is excellent and we can make those allowances. The author had an unusual, interesting childhood and she writes about it well, both the people and the places. Sybille, known within her family as Billi, spends her earliest yea Is this a memoir or a novel? Sybille Bedford tells us to what extent her previous work was invented and says that this one is true, apart from some changes of name to protect certain reputations and an allowance for childhood memories of events being incomplete. As a memoir it is excellent and we can make those allowances. The author had an unusual, interesting childhood and she writes about it well, both the people and the places. Sybille, known within her family as Billi, spends her earliest years with her parents and also her father's first wife's parents in Berlin during the war. Her mother leaves after the war and most of her subsequent childhood is spent in poverty with her father, an over-protective parent, but with an ingenious talent for self-sufficiency. She makes an access visit to her mother and unfortunately her father dies while she is away and she is officially made a ward-of-court. Her mother is a much more negligent parent, given to leaving her daughter alone while she pursues amorous adventures, making laissez-faire arrangements for her education and summoning her across Europe at short notice. As she grows up she gradually makes her own life, but still visits and watches her mother's become more tragic. As a novel it is less satisfactory, due to a lack of overall theme or dramatic arc. Things happen chronologically, then it stops. I read this as part of the Booker shortlist for the year, so have rated it as a novel.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Avery interesting book. I sought it out because I’d read Sybille Bedford’s memoir “Quicksands” which alluded to the Judge and his son...So I bought and read “ Mr Hardie” ( The Judge) by Henry Archer (his son)...also a fascinating read. This then led me to the present book “Jigsaw” where The Judge is mentioned again and who met Sybille Bedford in the South of France with his mistress. It’s all tied in. And while on the subject of Sanary in the South of France, another novel has come to my attenti Avery interesting book. I sought it out because I’d read Sybille Bedford’s memoir “Quicksands” which alluded to the Judge and his son...So I bought and read “ Mr Hardie” ( The Judge) by Henry Archer (his son)...also a fascinating read. This then led me to the present book “Jigsaw” where The Judge is mentioned again and who met Sybille Bedford in the South of France with his mistress. It’s all tied in. And while on the subject of Sanary in the South of France, another novel has come to my attention by a French author Michele Kahn , “ Un soir à Sanary”.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathrin Peters

    This may not be a literary masterpiece but it is an utterly compelling read. Sybille's account of her childhood and youth, meeting a wealth of fascinating individuals and encountering many dramatic situations, draws the reader into her world and way of thinking. The story of her mother is heartbreaking and beautifully described. I would have liked this book to proceed to her older self. She calls it a biographical novel but it is more an autobiography than a novel.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    4.5 A fictionalized story of Bedford's life, which takes the reader into the life of young "Billi". We see her shuttled from place to place in Europe during WWI, while her parents are off doing their own thing. Billi seems to turn out no worse for this- I think it builds her character and personality. Bedford is great writer.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Derek Henderson

    Starts off well. But the style, which I found fascinating at first, quickly irritates. And the endless minutiae of her life and the persons in it soon lose their attraction. Ended up skipping the last half.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andreas

    What’s with this book? Divided into five parts, the first three are seventy pages, the next two two hundred and fifty. I was slightly bored with the first four parts, thinking about giving it a disappointing three star - no review, spending three weeks slogging through them. Then, in a brilliant two-day binge, the final half of the book flew by. An incredible account of having an addict mother, and sexual awakening with the back-drop of pre-fascist Europe versus insular Britain, leaving the name- What’s with this book? Divided into five parts, the first three are seventy pages, the next two two hundred and fifty. I was slightly bored with the first four parts, thinking about giving it a disappointing three star - no review, spending three weeks slogging through them. Then, in a brilliant two-day binge, the final half of the book flew by. An incredible account of having an addict mother, and sexual awakening with the back-drop of pre-fascist Europe versus insular Britain, leaving the name-dropping of famous friends, such as Aldous Huxley, an unimportant, background detail.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Darby Dixon III

    High four. Four five. Four six two five.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lisa of Hopewell

    I learned of this book here:https://theliterarysisters.wordpress.... I learned of this book here:https://theliterarysisters.wordpress....

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elcin Kurtulus

    I've never struggled so much with a book. Great life lessons from Sybille, but the story and her language drags on a bit.

  25. 5 out of 5

    scarlettraces

    Something else I would never have read except for my side project of working through the Eland list. (Don't ask why, it's not like I don't have toppling towers - literally - of things to read.) Bedford's voice is a joy and I am definitely going to read her more novel-ly novels next.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    I found this slow to start but once I was in I was completely hooked. I loved the evocation of the 1920s and the bit where it said, 'would things have been different if I had stayed that Winter...' Oh my gosh. I wanted to KNOW so badly. I was satisfied with the ending but I also wanted to start madly googling all the characters and finding out what happened to them all in real life. I want someone to write the follow up of what happened next to everyone.... Great book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence A

    This exquisitely written book reads sort of like the Portrait of The Artist as a Young Woman, although it doesn't necessarily sound like Joyce. The work also contains the requisite Proustian details of how the author spent her youth in Germany, Italy, France, and England, mostly between the two world wars. Bedford is probably better known as the biographer of Aldous Huxley, who, in real life, acted as her mentor. Here, the redoubtable Huxley appears as a character in Bedford's concededly autobio This exquisitely written book reads sort of like the Portrait of The Artist as a Young Woman, although it doesn't necessarily sound like Joyce. The work also contains the requisite Proustian details of how the author spent her youth in Germany, Italy, France, and England, mostly between the two world wars. Bedford is probably better known as the biographer of Aldous Huxley, who, in real life, acted as her mentor. Here, the redoubtable Huxley appears as a character in Bedford's concededly autobiographical novel, but Bedford's mother steals the show as the true "character" in this retelling of Bedford's early life. I also caught whiffs of Edna O'Brien's "Country Girls" trilogy, at least insofar as this book serves as a coming-of-age story. There's not much plot, since most of the book revolves around Bedford's shuttling around between her father, her mother, and several other families, but the characters are wonderfully drawn.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    This was a recommendation from a friend--I rarely read biographies--but a good recommendation. It's actually a novel with bio elements, but seems more fact than fiction. Bedford is a good, evocative writer. She draws a clear picture of her "make it up as it goes" upbringing. How she managed to bring herself up is quite a story. And she was really more of a mother to her mother than the reverse. This was my problem with the book, but it's one of subject matter, not writing. The end was just so ble This was a recommendation from a friend--I rarely read biographies--but a good recommendation. It's actually a novel with bio elements, but seems more fact than fiction. Bedford is a good, evocative writer. She draws a clear picture of her "make it up as it goes" upbringing. How she managed to bring herself up is quite a story. And she was really more of a mother to her mother than the reverse. This was my problem with the book, but it's one of subject matter, not writing. The end was just so bleak that I wanted, but dreaded, to know what happened next with her mother. Clearly, it wouldn't be good. She does, though, draw clear, consistent characters. They seem to walk off the page, including Aldous and Maria Huxley, whose bio Bedford also wrote. It was interesting getting some "inside scoop" on how he wrote and spoke. The title definitely works: her early life was like a jigsaw, which she had to figure out, and her education was certainly unsentimental. Well done.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Riodelmartians

    I read this for the third time. Can I give it six stars?The author has the incredible talent of reliving the memory without bias, and , then, inserting the filter of experience and judgement. Her younger self shares the story of her anxiety over her custody between two unpredictable parents, and, then when one goes, the trustees ever hovering. It's most wonderful how she connects the first page consisting of her memory as a 2 year old and the last page as a 19 year old making her mother confess I read this for the third time. Can I give it six stars?The author has the incredible talent of reliving the memory without bias, and , then, inserting the filter of experience and judgement. Her younger self shares the story of her anxiety over her custody between two unpredictable parents, and, then when one goes, the trustees ever hovering. It's most wonderful how she connects the first page consisting of her memory as a 2 year old and the last page as a 19 year old making her mother confess what really happened by sharing what she already figured out. An incredible portrait of a mother who hardly knew how to mother with a very engaging love life. Beautiful memoir of life on the French riviera, and a truly horrifying depiction of morphine addiction. Aldous Huxley and wife make memorable appearances. Extremely re-readable along with all her other memoirs and travel novels.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    I am sure that many modern day parents would be appalled at the upbringing of Sybille Bedford! Born in 1911 in Germany and raised by her father until she was 8 then sent off to her mother who was English but lived in Italy, then shunted between England/Italy and France during the 1920's - left in hotels and with complete strangers! However, coming to no apparent harm and becoming one of the most respected journalist/writers of the mid 19th century. She was an observer and traveller with that par I am sure that many modern day parents would be appalled at the upbringing of Sybille Bedford! Born in 1911 in Germany and raised by her father until she was 8 then sent off to her mother who was English but lived in Italy, then shunted between England/Italy and France during the 1920's - left in hotels and with complete strangers! However, coming to no apparent harm and becoming one of the most respected journalist/writers of the mid 19th century. She was an observer and traveller with that particularly English detachment (no doubt due to her upbring). This book is an acute insight of a life between the world wars that has gone forever...I found it amazing that it existed at all so different is it from our modern world.

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