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Don't be fooled by the dry, unpromising subtitle or the political background of its diplomat author. An Appetite for Life is filled with fluid, graceful writing and delicious bons mots. When the volume opens, a discouraged 18-year-old Ritchie decides not to pursue a writing life because of what he sees as an unsuccessful attempt at a short story. But the young author's astute, observant diaries make up for what the world of fiction may have lost. Appetite covers Ritchie's final years at home in Halifax and his first year's schooling in Oxford as he grows from awkward adolescent to awkward young man in a recognizable yet strange landscape. The diaries are peopled with characters and settings out of Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ritchie is the eloquent Everyman trying to make sense of the mores and manners of the times. His fumblings with the opposite sex are endearing, as are his lack of pretense and joy in the idiosyncrasies of those around him, including family members, fellow students, thespians (he dabbles in the theatre at one point), and various young women of his acquaintance. Most of all, though, there are the fine, rich sentences, shot through with understated humour: "Then the door flew open and a troupe of aesthetes came willowing in," he writes of an evening at a pub. In other passages we are reminded this is very much a book about a young man's coming of age. For instance, reflecting on his sudden lack of interest in a heretofore-admired friend, Ritchie sounds betrayed when he opines "how quickly one loses one's illusions about people." Overall the diary entries have a light, non-judgmental tone that makes the book a joy to read. And it leaves us wanting to know more about the uncertain, directionless young man who grew up to become Canada's ambassador to the United States during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. --Shawn Conner
“The lens of Ritchie’s sensibility, in all his writing, is itself so peculiarly and sharply focussed, his use of language so beautiful and so lucid, that the diaries and memoirs reshape and reorder experience and as a result transform into literature the story of his own life.”
— Jane Urquhart, Brick magazine
“We can only be left with the conclusion that, in Ritchie, Canada has found its very own Pepys.”
“He challenges comparison with the best diarists in the language. Indeed I can think of none who excel him in grace of language and in fecundity of wit.”