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Michael Holroyd | Basil Street Blues Extract

Well-known for his frank biographies of such controversial figures as Augustus John and Lytton Strachey, Michael Holroyd teases out the story – or rather stories – of his own distinctly problematic family in his delightful and original memoir, Basil Street Blues.

His career as a biographer, he tells us at the outset, ‘probably arose from a desire to escape from family involvements and immerse myself in other people’s lives’, and it’s not hard to see why. The lonely only child of divorced parents, young Michael Holroyd spent much of his childhood with his squabbling paternal grandparents, ‘Old Nan’ the family nanny, his unmarried Aunt Yolande and her dogs. His volatile father, always busy with his own commercial and amorous enterprises, and his glamorous Swedish mother with her succession of exotic husbands, had only walk-on parts in his life.

With the passage of time things changed, and in the 1970s, when his career as a biographer had begun to take off, he found himself trying to cheer his ageing parents – now both struggling to get by – by asking them to give him an account of their early lives. But nothing in their attempts matched up – not even the date of his own birth. It was only a decade later, after both his parents had died, that he was overcome by a desire to discover more, to find the ‘connecting story’ which his fragmented childhood had so lacked.

The result was Basil Street Blues which he describes as ‘an exercise in vicarious autobiography’. Inevitably, as he begins delicately to probe and piece together the bizarre history of his own family, he discovers more about himself. The result is a very personal detective story.

Basil Street Blues is still available as a handsome Slightly Foxed Edition (No. 29) but won’t be for too much longer as we’re now down to our last hundred or so copies. We won’t be reissuing this title as a Plain Foxed Edition and so now (to make it even more tempting and save a shelf or two in the office) we’re offering it at a reduced rate.

So, if you’ve been thinking about adding it to your collection, now’s the time. It’s available to buy a single title at a reduced rate of £12, and in various book bundles all listed below. Please read on for an extract from this subtle, funny and poignant memoir.

With best wishes from the SF office staff

Jess, Isabel, Rebecca, Izzy & Jennie

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