An extraordinary showcase of work from one of the world's greatest essayists.
Janet Malcolm, writes David Lehman in the Boston Globe, 'is among the most intellectually provocative of authors, able to turn epiphanies of perception into explosions of insight'.
In Forty-one False Starts one of the world's great writers of literary non-fiction brings together for the first time essays published over several decades. The pieces, many of which first appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, reflect Malcolm's preoccupation with artists and their work. Her subjects are painters, photographers, writers, and critics. She delves beneath the "onyx surface" of Edith Wharton's fiction, appreciates the black comedy of the Gossip Girl novels, and confronts the false starts of her own autobiography.
As the Guardian has said, 'Her books bring a gimlet-eyed clarity to often fraught and complicated subjects and are so lean, so seamless, so powerfully direct, they read as if they have been written in a single breath.'
Janet Malcolm is the prize-winning author of many books, including Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, and Burdock, a volume of her photography. Malcolm writes frequently for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. She splits her time between New York City and Sheffield, Massachusetts.
'No living writer has narrated the drama of turning the messy and meaningless world into words as brilliantly, precisely, and analytically as Janet Malcolm...Her influence is so vast that much of the writing world has begun to think in the charged, analytic terms of a Janet Malcolm passage.' Paris Review
'Malcolm's work inspires the best kind of disquiet in a reader - the obligation to think.' Jeffrey Toobin
'A legendary journalist.' Laura Miller
Bringing together a quarter-century's worth of subtle, sharply observed essays on artists and writers, this collection chronicles not just life events and artistic influences, but also the amorphous subjectivity of biography itself. The cleverly structured title essay presents Malcolm's "false starts" for a profile of postmodern painter David Salle: the "1950s corporate-style" sofa in his Tribeca loft, the mess of ripped-out magazine pages and illustrations on his studio table, the things critics say about him, what he says about himself. Its fragments mirror the appropriated pictorial scraps in Salle's work. In another highlight, "A Girl of the Zeitgeist," first published in 1986, Malcolm (In the Freud Archives) tracks the fresh but controversial direction Artforum took under then-editor-in-chief Ingrid Sischy. She returns to photography in a number of essays, profiling Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian-era amateur whose portraits mix the ridiculous with the inspired; Diane Arbus, who snapped pictures of tramps, freaks, and transvestites; and Edward Weston and Irving Penn, photographers who produced very different types of nudes. She traces the history of the Bloomsbury Group, reassesses a favorite childhood novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, and defends J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey from the criticisms of his contemporaries. These unstinting essays investigate how a consensus forms relating to a body of work or an artistic movement, how attitudes toward art change over time, and how artistic legacies are managed or mismanaged by children and heirs.