A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters
148 Diaries Found in a Skip

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It doesn’t detract from the pleasures of A Life Discarded. But, in a book about the puzzles of identity, it reminded me that anonymity could still have the last laugh.
-Guardian

Synopsis

Unique, transgressive and as funny as its subject, A Life Discarded has all the suspense of a murder mystery. With his characteristic warmth, respect and humour, Masters asks you to join him in celebrating an unknown and important life left on the scrap heap.

A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out.

Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation. A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as 'I', is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful.

Part thriller, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers' obsessions: of I's need to record every second of life and of Masters' pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.

 

About Alexander Masters

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Published May 5, 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers Limited.
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for A Life Discarded
All: 4 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 1

Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Mary Beard on May 14 2016

It doesn’t detract from the pleasures of A Life Discarded. But, in a book about the puzzles of identity, it reminded me that anonymity could still have the last laugh.

Read Full Review of A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries... | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Rachel Cooke on May 03 2016

I would also say that I still have myriad questions about the life of his peculiar diarist: why she did X and Y, I still don’t know; how she felt about Z remains unclear to me. This isn’t to say, though, that I don’t salute the aspiration. His book’s failures are profoundly honourable, and unpicking them has not been for me a happy task.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Mary Beard on May 14 2016

...Masters never points out that some names have been changed (not only “Laura”’s but also, even though dead, that of her “gaoler”). It doesn’t detract from the pleasures of A Life Discarded. But, in a book about the puzzles of identity, it reminded me that anonymity could still have the last laugh.

Read Full Review of A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries... | See more reviews from Guardian

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Becky Toyne on Jul 13 2016

“These books were alive,” says the Cambridge professor upon finding them strewn about a skip – and in Masters’s heartbreaking, heartwarming biography we learn that, however unremarkable or littered with disappointments our existence might turn out to be, so are we.

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