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Marie de Gournay was eighteen when she read, and was overwhelmed by, the essays of the French philosopher Montaigne. She had to be revived with hellebore. When she finally met Montaigne, she stabbed herself with a hairpin until the blood ran in order to show her devotion. He made her his adopted daughter for the two months they knew each other. He died four years later, after which, though scorned by intellectuals, she became his editor. Jenny Diski engages with this passionate and confused relationship between ‘father and daughter’, old writer/young acolyte, possible lovers, using both their voices. Much of their story is about absence of the people they love. In Jenny Diski’s hands it becomes a fascinating tale.

Reviews

Diski's understated method and her decision to observe rather than judge give the surface of this novel an even-handed authority . . . [a] compelling, beautifully crisp fictional reconstruction of this bizarre and uncompromising woman's life
Patricia Duncker, Observer
Diski never takes the easy or obvious approach and the result is a brilliantly witty and stylishly simple look at disappointment in love and life
Tania Ahsan, Metro
A compelling and complex tale . . . Diski's prose is elegant and visceral . . . Like all good historical fiction, APOLOGY FOR THE WOMAN WRITING not only illuminates an undeservedly little-known episode of literary history, it also demonstrates a rare subtlety and sense of moral ambiguity of restrained devotion transformed by the writer's incisive eye, into art
Josephine Balmer, The Times
Diski has cleverly adapted the historical sources to fashion an exceedingly literary novel ... Diski's cool, modulated prose exhibits the moderation so prized by Montaigne, and Marie's fate offers a salutary warning to those of us who love books
Michael Arditti, Independent