The title of this addition to the lengthening shelf of books about Glenn Gould carries a slight suggestion of tabloid journalism. The suggestion is not altogether misplaced, given this volume’s subject matter. Many of Gould’s contemporaries assumed that the great classical pianist and professional eccentric, who died in 1982, had low sexual energy. For example, to Robert Fulford, his childhood chum, Gould was “a confirmed bachelor at 13.” His friend Howard Engel, the mystery writer, thought most of his relationships to be pragmatic ones based on shared interests, rather than romantic partnerships. In fact, Gould had numerous long affairs with women, most of whom were artists themselves. (Gould’s life was also marked by serious addictions to prescription drugs, a fact some believe hastened his death at 51.)
Frances Batchen, a fellow musician who presided over a multidisciplinary bohemian salon in postwar Toronto, stands out among the women with whom he became involved. She was the first of two women to refuse a marriage proposal from Gould. Her personality comes through vividly in Michael Clarkson’s book, no doubt partly because the author was able to interview her in person, whereas a number of other subjects were available only by phone or e-mail (and one of them remained true to her vow of silence).
Batchen left Canada in 1956 following a romantic overlap with Gladys Shenner, a writer sent by Maclean’s to interview Gould, only to become the next key player in the long melodrama of his private life.
Gould aficionados are likely to find only the smallest crumbs of new information in The Secret Life of Glenn Gould. Clarkson, however, must be given credit for doggedness, clarity of writing, and enthusiasm. The author’s career as a writer of popular books on psychology is much less apparent here than his background as a journalist. (Clarkson won a Pulitzer Prize for interviewing J.D. Salinger – someone even more reclusive than Gould was.)
Clarkson’s prose has patches of freshness but is also peppered with clichés and inaccuracies. He writes: “Toronto the Good was not a rockin’ town in the 1950s, prior to the influx of immigrants and extravagant festivals – it was, as someone once said, New York run by the Swiss.” The “someone” was Sir Peter Ustinov, speaking in the 1980s about the Toronto of a later era than the one Clarkson is referencing.
"Fans of Gould will welcome this addition to the canon, which, despite its limited, voyeuristic ambition, is both revealing and respectful." Library Journal
"[Gould’s] many bittersweet sexual affairs, here meticulously revealed and chronicled by Michael Clarkson, make compelling reading. The sensual Mr. Gould's Goldberg variations weren't entirely about Johann Sebastian Bach." Peter C. Newman, journalist and bestselling author, Here Be Dragons
"[Clarkson] must be given credit for doggedness, clarity of writing, and enthusiasm." Quill & Quire
"Already the subject of more than a dozen books, Gould is even more intriguing as a result of Clarkson's book." The National Post
"This book contains fascinating information you cannot easily get anywhere else . . . Gould emerges as more human, and his extraordinary musical achievements become all the more remarkable." Winnipeg Free Press
"Clarkson shows himself to be a thoughtful commentator, offering the occasional salacious detail but opting for a decidedly respectful voice when recounting Gould's amorous, often bittersweet liaisons. . . . A fresh and fascinating look at the human side of genius." Scene Magazine
"Clarkson is able to draw the reader into the soul of the one of the most eccentric, sensitive and haunted musical geniuses the world has ever produced. This is an amazingly detailed and well researched book that I couldn't put down." Liona Boyd, CM, LLD