I first read Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard while I was in Palermo in 1981, at the age of 18. It was one of those defining reading experiences which are not always easy to explain but which have to do with a deep sense of recognition. Through the alchemy of fictional characters and the way in which they engage with their world, you are taken somewhere (psychologically, morally, emotionally) that you do not usually expect to go, and the journey reveals to you something about yourself and the world you inhabit. You may also recognize with awe that the author has achieved something of extraordinary value. Who is this person, you wonder then, and what did it feel like to create this phenomenon? One does not necessarily expect an answer to the second part of this question in an author’s biography, but if it is there then you may get that fuzzy feeling of awe all over again.
David Gilmour’s biography of Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Last Leopard, was published in 1988. It made a great impression on me, and I have recommended and sold it ever since with confidence. But as the years passed I started to wonder if I wasn’t misled by inexperience. I was young when I read it, and had not then read many other biographies of writers. How would it measure up now? I knew it was out of print because we had bought up the end of the print run, and Mr Horse’s Mouth at Random House told me lately, on enquiry, that however many copies a couple of fancy independent shops might sell over the next few years, it would never find its way back to the shelves of high street shops and therefore – hands were wrung, I swear – a reprint could not reasonably be contemplated. This and the imminent fiftieth anniversary of The Leopard’s first publication were just the incentives needed to drive me crossly, protectively, back to both the novel and the biography of its author. The facts – who Lampedusa was, and what he did – are almost comi
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in