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Palimpsest: A Memoir


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Gore Vidal has received the National Book Award, written numerous novels, short stories, plays and essays. He has been a political activist and as Democratic candidate for Congress from upstate New York, he received the most votes of any Democrat in a half-century.


Prolific essayist, novelist (Burr et al.), screenwriter (Suddenly, Last Summer), playwright (The Best Man), and sometime political candidate Vidal quotes the definition of palimpsest as " `a parchment which has been written upon twice; the original having been rubbed out.' " This particular memoir of his first 39 years (1926-65), says Vidal, has "many rubbings-out and puttings-in," which may explain its many-layered nature and the bare nod to chronology, with flashbacks and flashforwards and curious juxtapositions of friend and foe. In it he blithely skewers both family and friends (or ex-friends)-particularly his alcoholic mother, the Auchinclosses, John and Jackie Kennedy, Anaïs Nin and other literati, and too many more to recount-with nasty revelations. But Vidal is still a stylish writer, and those not put off by the mean-spiritedness of these self-serving memoirs and fascinated by the literary, political, and entertainment worlds of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s may want to read this. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/95; BOMC and Quality Paperback selections; New Yorker serial, Oct. 2.]-Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal"

'An engrossing and beguiling read. Admirably candid, refreshingly indiscreet, intelligent and full of wit, it is also startlingly original...And unequivocal triumph.' William Boyd, DAILY TELEGRAPH BOOKS OF THE YEAR 'He does not narrate his life: he revies it. The result is something quite novel and wonderfully appealing, a critical biography of himself...Vidal's life might even be his greatest work.' INDEPENDENT 'Wonderfully entertaining. You want the high-level political gossip? You get it here... it offers all the zing of a Dry Martini without the danger of getting drunk.' DAILY TELEGRAPH 'PALIMPSEST is a tremendous read, down and dirty from start to finish. It is also a proud and serious and truthful book...' SUNDAY TIMES 'On reaching his three score and ten, Vidal has produced this elegantly observed, ineffably sad- and at times hysterically funny- memoir.' SUNDAY EXPRESS 'Throughout the book we find him warm and generous among the poisoned arrows he also flings...' THE TIMES 'This palimpsest, however much scored out and scribbled over, and however much a keening for the golden gone to dust, is nonetheless a record of the transmutation, of the base into gold, that is the raw stuff of literature...' LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS 'The most entertaining fagiography since THE ORTON DIARIES...' Philip Kerr, SUNDAY TIMES BOOKS OF THE YEAR '...a book that is far more than a memoir; bawdy catalogue, family saga, political history, elegy. And one of the year's best books.' Guy Reynolds, EVENING STANDARD BOOKS OF THE YEAR 'There are passages from Gore Vidal's PALIMPSEST which expose that Mount Rushmore mind like nothing else he has ever written.' Melvyn Bragg, SUNDAY TIMES BOOKS OF THE YEAR '...matches some of the great literary memoirs of childhood, such as Nabakov's SPEAK, MEMORY...' FINANCIAL TIMES

Vidal's account of his first 39 years includes his reminiscences of a host of prominent political and cultural figures. (Sept.)

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