a life discarded review

‘A Life Discarded’ is the biography of a person whose 148 diaries have been found lying in a skip. Written by Alexander Masters (author of ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’), it has been published by 4th Estate.

I have been looking forward to reading this for quite a while. It screams my name – it’s a mystery (why would someone let their life be thrown away like that?), it’s about books and writing (why would someone be possessed to write SO MUCH about their daily life?), and it’s by Alexander Masters, whose writing I adore. I was absolutely thrilled to be given the chance to get my hands on an ARC – so if anyone from 4th Estate is reading this – THANK YOU!

Right. To the book itself. How can I put this? It was everything that I expected it would be. And I have never been more thrilled. As usual, Masters writes with great sensitivity, humour, and personality. Even if the diarist doesn’t quite win your heart, he certainly will. I was deeply moved by how much of his own life ended up within a biography that delves into the deepest parts of the diarist’s mind, body, and soul. Because of that, the biography doesn’t feel voyeuristic – I feel like he’s made some sort of devilish exchange. In order to get such an insight into someone’s life, he’s had to give up just a little bit of his own. And I love that.


Another aspect of the book that really impressed me was the fact that he doesn’t jump through the regular biographical hoops. Masters is very happy to leave the diarist unnamed, and makes little attempt to discover details about their life through birth records, death records, or anything like that. He mentions that he finds this type of research very boring – thank goodness. It’s boring to read, too!  That’s one of the things that really made this particular biography stand out, to me. In a world where anybody and their mum is capable of writing their life story (or having their life story written), I really do think that mixing things up like Masters has is one of the few ways in which the non-celebrity can have their true stories told.

The book was very well-structured – it did feel chaotic, but so was the diarist. And so is life! It obviously was put together with great care. In each chapter there is a new ‘plot’ twist, a new angle of the diarist that has been discovered, or a new rumination on life, art, or the diary. Again, it just made it quirky and different! Because of this, I absolutely sped through it during the course of two afternoons – and given my general indifference to biographies, that is saying a lot.

I know that some other reviewers were looking for ‘more’ – more what? This is a truly unique insight into someone’s intimate experience of life – what more could there possibly be? I, personally, loved it. If you’re interested in how other people live their lives, I think you would too.

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