The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein

I gave up on this after 100 pages. The conceit of the book is that it is Stein’s autobiography, written in the third person, as if the narrator is her friend Alice B Toklas. I would have preferred Toklas, as it happens. The style is very mannered and, I assume ironically, dull and clumsy. She lived through interesting times and the whole milieu of Paris, with Picasso and Matisse and Hemingway and Braque, all knocking about, is interesting. But the style is so repetitive and monotonous. Yawn.

I was reading a second hand copy, as I buy most of my books second hand. I am usually a bit irritated if there are notes written in a book, but this time I was fascinated by the fact that someone had made notes throughout the whole thing, right up to the end. I tried to decipher the notes, to see what it might be like to read the book and appreciate it. But the handwriting was terrible and mostly unreadable. One note I could read, however. It was beside a passage where Stein (through Toklas) said that someone ignored her. The note said “I’m not fucking surprised”. I felt an affinity with the book’s previous owner.

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