It must feel odd - and more than a bit unsettling - to realise that sooner or later, perhaps in your lifetime, somebody will write your biography. Biographers can get lives badly wrong; and even when they get things right, giving attentive accounts with the salient facts in order, they may leave out friendships and discoveries that contributed greatly to a writer's inner life. How to supplement - or correct, or displace - a future biography without taking years to concentrate on a memoir? Seamus Heaney and Dennis O'Driscoll have found a good way. Stepping Stones is not quite Heaney's autobiography: it is, instead, a long collection of interviews, revised collaboratively, in which Heaney describes each phase of his life. Only a poet of Heaney's repute could enable a trade publisher to support such an enterprise; only a poet of Heaney's temperament, at once gregarious and thoughtful, and an interlocutor such as O'Driscoll, wry, informed and deliberately informal, could agree to collaborate on it, and make it worth reading. Together, the two Irish writers connect Heaney's poems with the people, places, books and songs that he has known.
LRB 11 June 2009 | PDF Download