This book took me two months – to the day – to read. For someone who used to read a book a day and has now slowed down to generally a book a week, that is LONG time. But don’t think that it was because I didn’t enjoy reading this – on the contrary, I loved it, to the extent that I would put it in my top ten favourite books.
Because it is Richard Burton’s diaries, it is not an autobiography as such, but it does paint an revealing and fascinating picture of his life, particularly during his first marriage to Elizabeth Taylor.
The diaries initially start with schoolboy Richard (then called Richard Jenkins) describing his day to day life – with focus on friends, family and sport (and a lot of board games!) but even then you can see his budding interest in books and literature. The majority of the diaries are, as aforementioned, written during his life with Elizabeth Taylor, and they are very absorbing – not just for the private snapshots of their lives together, but also for his thoughtful observations on the world in general, his profession, his children and his reading habits. Because he certainly loved to read – up to three books a day sometimes – and wrote his thoughts about almost everything he read. He had a wickedly acerbic sense of humour and often used quotes by poets, authors and playwrights to support his point.
The diaries tail off towards the end of his and Taylor’s relationship and then start again during his four marriage (to third wife Suzy Hunt). After another long gap, they restart again during his relationship with Sally Hay, and during preparation for the Private Lives tour, when he and Taylor starred together in Noel Coward’s play about a divorced couple who still have feelings for each other. I admire Burton’s widow Sally for releasing the diaries, especially when he writes with such passion and love towards Taylor for the majority of them.
What ultimately emerged from the diaries was a picture of a very intelligent, witty and generous man, with many demons (not the least of which was of course alcohol), but who was all too aware of the flaws in himself, as much as he noticed flaws in those around him.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book from beginning to end, beautifully edited (although I would have preferred the notes to be in a list at the back of the book, rather than footnotes on almost every individual page), and one I will definitely pick up and read again. Highly recommended for anyone with even the slightest interest in any aspect of Burton’s life.
(Click here for the official Richard Burton website.)