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A Life Discarded 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters

A Life Discarded 148 Diaries Found in a Skip

Biography / Autobiography   Books of the Month   The Real World   eBook Favourites   
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May 2016 Non-Fiction Book of the Month.

A detective story, investigating the life of the person whose diaries – 148 of them at least – turned up in a skip in 2001. Who was this person, this I who had written every day for nearly 50 years? Alexander Masters determines to search out this “Life Discarded” making for a lively, poignant and most unusual biography of a person we don't immediately know the name of, don't know their sex or age even if they're dead or alive. Our vision of the diarist changes as Alexander Masters truffles out more facts, the perspective constantly shifting turning me into a compulsive reader longing to know the writer's identity. Never fear, all is revealed and I won't spoil it here except to say I doubt if there will be another biography quite like this one along for a long time, an extraordinary story of one of the most compulsive diarists of recent times. ~ Sue Baker

Like for Like Reading. The Boy in the Book: One Man's Adventure in Search of a Lost Childhood by Nathan Penlington. The Diaries of Nella Last: Writings in War and Peace Edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Joy Bosworth - 'Whilst the author is a factual biographer, I became convinced he was writing this as a novelist so engrossing is the story, and yet, if it is biography and is all true – the final outcome is an absolute shock.'
  • Ann Peet - 'Original and intriguing...Unique, clever and gripping from the attention grabbing start to the unexpected end.'
  • Jennifer Moville - 'an odd book but if you like something a little different then this may just be for you.'
  • Sarah Webb - 'An intriguing biography.'
  • Jayne Burton - 'This book arrived as I was about to leave for my daily walk along the beach...Needless to say I didn’t get my walk that day!'
  • Robin Little - 'An original & unusual book. Not a mystery, more a jigsaw.  Alexander Master pieces together the fragments of 147 diaries into a coherent life story.  An ordinary life told in an exceptional way.'
  • Edel Waugh - 'I really enjoyed this unusual book, it was an undertaking done with much love for what he was doing. I recommend this to everyone.'
  • Beth Kemp - 'More mystery than typical biography, this fascinating story of trawling through diaries spanning five decades had me gripped.'
  • Val Rowe - 'An intriguing and thought provoking mystery unravelling the life of a not-so-ordinary woman.'
  • Alexandra Harper-Williams - 'A captivating biographical book that is thought-provoking, surprising and a delightful read...I salute the writer of the diaries and I congratulate Alexander Masters on a wonderfully written real mystery story.'
  • Lisa Hall - 'Weirdly compelling - like peeping through the window into someone else's life!' 
  • Ann Quintilla - 'This is a detective story in which the writer reconstructs the life of the writer of 148 diaries found in a skip in Cambridge.'
  • Phylippa Smithson - 'I started this thinking it was a fictional biography of an unknown woman but when I realised it was in fact a non-fictional account of her life, I felt short-changed.'

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A Life Discarded 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters

Unique, transgressive and as funny as its subject, A Life Discarded has all the suspense of a murder mystery. Written with his characteristic warmth, respect and humour, Masters asks you to join him in celebrating an unknown and important life left on the scrap heap. A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation. A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as 'I', is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful. Part thrilling detective story, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers' obsessions: of 'I's need to record every second of life and of Masters' pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.


Praise for Stuart: A Life Backwards:

'It's been years since I've been so delighted by a book and so surprised by it. When I'd finished I felt bereft, as if I'd lost an old friend
Zadie Smith

'I feel so strongly about this strange, funny, sad book that I hardly know where to begin. My enthusiasm feels almost limitless'

'Funny and original, a startling book. By the end I was doubled up in tears, but throughout I was often doubled up with laughter. It is dazzling'
Vogue Praise for Simon: The Genius in My Basement

'Astonishingly good ... a glorious book: funny, surprising and completely sui generis'
Sunday Times

'Wholly original ... a wonderful book which shows you don't have to be 'normal'
to be happy' Daily Mail

'Captivating ... Masters has managed to convey something of the beauty and mystery not just of mathematics but of the human spirit.' Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Alexander Masters

Alexander Masters’ first book, Stuart: A Life Backwards, won the Guardian First Book Award, the Hawthornden Prize and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Biography Prize. Eighteen different newspapers and popular magazines chose it as Book of the Year. It was turned into a BBC film starring Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Alexander lives in Sussex.

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Book Info

Publication date

5th May 2016


Alexander Masters

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Fourth Estate Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


272 pages


Biography / Autobiography
Books of the Month
The Real World
eBook Favourites

Biography: general
Diaries, letters & journals



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