This is a pitiful, jaw-dropping story, brilliantly told. To one of her premarital lovers before the First World War, Count Hermann von Keyserling, Gladys had written: “I recall having long asked myself what the sadness could be which is at the bottom of all joy.” During her long life, she had ample time to explore the many facets of that sadness.
This introduction is a masterpiece of storytelling: edge-of-the-seat stuff, unputdownable. Vickers has written many excellent books, but this new version of an old one has a character all of its own: he is in it, at the beginning and at the end, attributing his entire subsequent career to that chance encounter with Channon’s diary, an event that provoked in him the strange itch that drives biographers on in their compulsion to release their subjects’ secrets from within. With Deacon he has succeeded triumphantly, managing with consummate narrative skill and dazzling quotation to give breathing, alarming life to a woman who puzzled and thrilled her contemporaries in equal measure.