A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters

A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters book cover
Image from Goodreads.com

[So as not to have a super long post title, I only used the main portion of the title of this novel; the complete title is A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip.]

I saw this book perched on a shelf in a local bookstore shortly before I left for Seattle. The cover intrigued me immediately and, after reading what the book was about, I knew I had to buy it and take it on my trip because it would be a real page-turner. And it was. I finished the book on the first day of my fourth year of university before my statistics class and then sat through the entire lecture in a dazed state of contemplation.  And now, here I am with a week left to go in the school term, and I am just publishing my review. Better late than never though. 

The title is fairly self-explanatory, but allow me to expand on it a little. This book tells the behind-the-scenes story of how biographer Alexander Masters came to possess 148 diaries that were tossed out into a skip on a building site in Cambridge, and how he spent five years reading and studying them, piecing together the diarist’s life, culminating in an incredible discovery. 

Beginning in 1952 and ending over 50 years later, a few weeks before the diaries were thrown away, tens of thousands of pages of handwriting tell part of an intimate and anonymous life story that Masters seeks to understand. I had never read a book like this before, but I loved Masters’ writing style of alternating between his personal life during which a dear friend is dying of cancer, and his time spent analyzing the diaries and attempting to fill in the gaps of the diarist’s history.  Plus, the book includes all kinds of excerpts from the diaries, from handwriting samples, to drawings, to transcribed passages, all of which offer further insight into the diarist. The reader makes new and exciting discoveries about the diarist along with Masters, such as the gender, age, mental state, sexuality, and life status of the diarist, and also backtracks when new evidence found in later diaries prove previous assumptions wrong. 

And now for the overview:

Opening Pargraph:

One breezy afternoon, my friend Richard Grove was mooching around Cambridge with his shirt hanging out, when he came across this skip.

What I Loved Most: Definitely Masters’ writing style.

What I Loved Least: The story was a little tough to follow at times, but I can only imagine the trouble Masters had reading through all the diaries and trying to piece together a timeline of the diarist’s life and trying to keep it as accurate as possible. 

Memorable Line:

But you have to be careful. Most people sound unbalanced in their diaries (if those diaries are honest) because that’s one of their purposes: to let out unspeakable things for a little runaround. 

Closing Paragraph:

It is all, she says, ‘jolly swerbles.’

Final Thoughts: This is an amazing book. I have already recommended it to a friend and he is about a quarter of the way through and loving it. It kept me guessing and second-guessing after each chapter, and I am looking forward to going to the library to check out more books by Alexander Masters. 

Please let me know in the comments below if any of you have read this book before and what you thought of it. If you haven’t read it, I implore you to because it is an incredible novel with an astounding conclusion.

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