The Secret Life of Glenn Gould: A Genius in Love Hardcover – Apr 1 2010
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Quill & Quire
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.
"[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
"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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Every so often the issue of his sexuality would emerge when reading about him.Sometimes I thought he might have been gay, sometimes asexual, maybe just overall shy and dedicated to his work. No one - including Gould himserlf - ever addressed the issue in print. In this age of over exposure, his reticence about making his life public makes him a saint of the movement against such exploitation. Critics and fans respected his wishes during his lifetime about his privacy.
But 25 years after his death, to finally have someone - the author Clarkson - take on the job of journalist and historian - and actually do some biographical legwork and fill in all sorts of blanks - is something to be grateful for. Our god was human.Who knew?
This is not - and shouldn't be - an introduction to Glenn Gould. Listening to the Goldberg recordings or reading Otto Friedrich's readable bio or Tim Page's "Converstaions with Gould" would be much truer to what "Glenn Gould" means. Who wouldn't want to know who was intimate with Will Shakespeare?
An extra star - it's a solid 3 for me- for the doggedness and shoework of the author.
Now we have a biographer who attempts to prove that not only was Gould not gay nor bisexual nor asexual, he was actually a highly sexual individual who was involved with plenty of women-----sometimes sexually and sometimes psychologically. After reaing this book, I am inclined to say it really doesn't matter. The only thing this book seems to prove is that Gould (who was always involved with his music) was probably not emotionally prepared for a permanent relationship with any woman and showed a certain reluctance to commit to anything but his career. Again, I don't care. I didn't expect Gould to be traditional in any sense and by delving into his somewhat dicey love life it magnifies the fact that he wasn't your average guy. Surprise!
As for his purported love interests, most were reluctant to speak about him and only a few did. This seemed to be a constant. His friends and associates respected his privacy. Maybe the author should have taken their lead and chose not to write about this aspect of his life. By proving Gould was not gay, he really didn't contribute much to the world view and memory of Glenn Gould.
No ladies man, but a puritan who's musical inspiration didn't come from women (or men), and who's aversion to most music of the Romantics is also evidenced by an aversion to all things sensual.
The Goldberg recordings (both of them) are excellent aural starting points for the green Gouldian and for the literary the reputable new favorite bio by Kevin Bazzana, the classic Otto Friedrich bio, and The Glenn Gould Reader would make for a library of Gould thought, anecdote, philosophy, and fact that will keep you ever-engrossed with Glenn Gould's life and music making.
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