No surprise, then, that I did not enjoy Helen Trinca's biography, Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St. John, with a blurb on the cover by fellow Sydney University alumnus, celebrity raconteur Clive James. [James's blurb, I noticed, fails to discuss the contents of the St John biography - funny, that - but alludes instead to having once known St. John who died in 2006 of emphysema in her mid-60s.]
Brilliant biographies, in my opinion, need three things: a fascinating subject, excellent research, and the author's passion for the subject that emanates in his or her telling.
In the case of Madeleine, Trinca's research cannot be faulted, but isn't it interesting that everyone to whom the author spoke about St John struggled to find anything positive to say? That's because Madeleine was - as becomes obvious as the story unfolds - chronically addicted to a "poor me" attitude triggered by her parents' disastrous marriage, her mother's premature death, and her father's subsequent detachment.
Madeleine never got over her childhood traumas and as a result struggled to live comfortably in her skin among the human race. In the end, she fled to London where she lived alone in her snobbish, prickly way and ultimately - good for her - turned out four half-decent books. I've only read The Women in Black which I found dreary and hard to finish; James, however, describes is as "a minor masterpiece" or similar, so I guess we'll have to disagree.St John went on to become shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her fourth novel, The Essence of the Thing, but her accomplishments notwithstanding, she remains a difficult, uninspiring person to know. I suspect biographer Trinca, after all the research and writing on her subject, felt the same way, because ultimately there's no passion, telling insight or humour in this biography, just a litany of relentlessly suck-the-life-out-of-you facts. >>>