‘Sidetracks’ is a sister book to ‘Footsteps’, conjured up from decades of ‘wanderings from the straight and narrow’ of his major biographies of Shelley and Coleridge. As Holmes himself says, ‘to be sidetracked is, after all, to be led astray by a path or an idea, a scent or a tune, and maybe lost forever.’ The centerpiece of the book is the poignant, inspiring story of Mary Woolstonecraft, the great feminist crusader and philosopher and her husband, William Godwin. But ‘Sidetracks’ winds through an extraordinary and eclectic assortment of Romantic and Gothic writers and personalities, all made hypnotically alive through Holmes’s transforming touch. We meet Chatterton and Gautier, Pierrot and Voltaire, Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, James Boswell and Zelide, MR James and some very unpleasant gothic apparitions. ‘Sidetracks’ is a renewed examination of the strange and sometimes shadowy pathways of biography.
Reviews of Sidetracks
‘An enchanting mixture of biography and memoir by the writer who has done more than any to illuminate biography’s genome project – mapping, without confusing, the complex chemistry of subject and quest.’ Alan Judd, Daily Telegraph
‘A delightfully eccentric volume that Boswell would have adored and Johnson well understood.’ Robert McCrum, Observer
‘The shimmering sensuality of his prose, his ability to make landscape live and his touching honesty gives his writing the power and pace of good fiction.’ Kathryn Hughes, Sunday Telegraph
‘This is magically compelling storytelling, set in a time of poets and phantoms, of ghosts and the Grand Guignol.’ Iain Finlayson, The Times
‘Above all, Holmes is a storyteller, transforming desiccated history into literary flesh and blood. He transports the reader alongside him into the past. This book is a masterful study of the human heart – his, yours, mine – demonstrating that, in the right hands, biography can be the most dazzling literary form of all.’ Sara Wheeler, Daily Telegraph