Palimpsest : a memoir

by Gore Vidal

Paper Book, 1995




New York : Random House, c1995.


This explosively entertaining memoir abounds in gossip, satire, historical apercus, and trenchant observations. Vidal's compelling narrative weaves back and forth in time, providing a whole view of the author's celebrated life, from his birth in 1925 to today, and features a cast of memorable characters--including the Kennedy family, Marlon Brando, Anais Nin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. of photos.

Media reviews

London Review of Books
In his rather sere and melancholy condition, Vidal tells some old stories rather less well than he recounted them the first... The finest and most revealing passages in Palimpsest, those which best synthesise the public and the personal, are the ones which treat of the Kennedy court. It’s a test of character whether one repudiates Camelot or not, and Vidal passes this test with all pennons flying.
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New York Review of Books
The reader feels right there, with it and in it; and so effective is the superimposed ripple of Vidal's style and personality (the palimpsest at work?) that a kind of innocence of absurdity-as with the marmalade jar-easily mingles with an effortless and knowing sophistication. Brought so fascinatingly close to us, the Vidal world seems both exotic and domestic, glitzy and homely, and is presented with a deft economy that is itself highly droll.

User reviews

LibraryThing member drmarymccormack
I have always been a big fan of Gore Vidal, but this book is incredibly mean spirited! I Hated the way he spoke of some people. He gives us all the prurient details of his sexual encounters(which I DO NOT mind) but then he judges those men in such a nasty manner for the things they did together. I don't get it. If he were speaking of women who were gracious enough to sleep with him, people would find it very offensive but since he is describing men it's okay? Poor taste.… (more)
LibraryThing member figre
I did not want to like this book. It holds all the worst of a memoir – in particular that name-dropping approach that can get so tedious and the desire to go into occasionally excruciating detail over little things. But it is impossible to not like this book. In spite of sometimes lapsing into the errors that can befall any memoir, it has one redeeming quality – it is written about Gore Vidal.

Vidal brings his skills to bear telling the almost true story of his life. Up front he admits that any story based on memory will not be the absolute truth. Hence the name of the book (Palimpsest – meaning parchment prepared for writing on and wiping off again.) This affectation gets overused and does not frame the book as well as the author may have liked. In particular, his use of the word to indicate where he may have rewritten passages (to either get them right or to ignore them). And the author constantly derides others for not being accurate in their memories while he openly (again, the name of the book) admits his memory cannot always be correct.

But the book rises above these minor issues. Actually, the author rises above these issues. Because Vidal keeps us reading, even as we feel it may be a guilty pleasure. And just about the time I would start to think things were slowing down, he would shamelessly throw out another name (Kennedy, anyone? Anais Nin? Eleanor Roosevelt? Capote?) and drag me back in. At the end of it all – an engrossing telling of Vidal’s life the way Vidal remembers it.
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LibraryThing member ehines
Vidal has often been a bit too theatrical in his self-presentation--he can't help it seems than to push things a little too far (I'm thinking his later political writings, but you might also think of his tiff with Bill Buckley), and this makes many people take him less seriously than he really deserves to be treated.

This is the first part of his memoirs and it is really good (far better than the second half). Good writing on being "gay" (Vidal thinks everyone's on a sliding scale sexually, so he doesn't appreciate absolutist sexual identities) and being privileged (but not rich) in the WWII and postwar era.

Lots of interesting people pass through, but Vidal's not just namedropping.

And of course lots of interesting (and disputable) observations about Washington and American politics.

One of the best books of its kind that I've ever read.
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LibraryThing member soulcruzer
Enjoyable read. It reads like a who's who among writers, actors, actresses, and presidents and senators. Gore does share some inspiring insights about the writing game as well.
LibraryThing member nmele
I thought I had read Vidal's memoir some years ago but was not sure; as I began reading, I knew I had not read it. Vidal is witty, and often thought-provoking; his gossip is both vicious and delicious, but the real reason to read this memoir is not what he has to say about literary figures or politicians he as known but instead his reflections on a host of subjects: anonymity and fame, love and sex, literature versus popular culture, and more. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this first volume of memoirs.… (more)
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
A fun romp through Vidal's life with his usual name dropping and biting wit.


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