Have You Been Good?
Vanessa Nicolson

Have You Been Good?

Have You Been Good?  is a memoir prompted by the sudden death of a 19-year old daughter. Vanessa Nicolson revisits her own troubled upbringing and the acrimonious divorce of her art historian parents in the early 1960s.  Taken to Florence just after her sixth birthday in 1962, then sent to a progressive boarding school in England four years later, she is caught between Britain and Italy, between bohemianism and a longing for security, troubled by her relationship with her mother and her father’s unavailability. Interweaving visceral descriptions of adolescence and young adulthood as a vulnerable young woman in an age of sexual permissiveness, she details her attempts to make sense of her parents’ lack of parenting skills despite their good intentions, and draws on a cast of eccentric characters including her father and his struggle with his latent homosexuality, her paternal grandmother Vita Sackville West, her anti-fascist Italian grandfather Nonno Giacomo, various lovers and characters from the art-world, to tell her daughter the stories she never had time to recount: how she loved and lost and overcame, creating her own family, only for it to be riven by tragedy. Written with raw honesty, alternating between the gentle and the absurd, Have You Been Good?  contrasts three generations and their approach to family, in a bittersweet tale of loss and redemption

Book Details:

  • Author: Vanessa Nicolson
  • Published Year: 2015
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Granta

Vanessa Nicolson

Vanessa Nicolson was brought up in Florence and London, and graduated from Sussex University in Art History and Italian in 1979. She began her career at the Tate Gallery and has since worked as a feature writer, reviewer, curator and film programmer as well as an interviewer for the British Library Sound Archive ‘Artist’s Lives’ project, making recordings with artists such as Anthony Gormley. Her publications include The Sculpture of Maurice Lambert, Lund Humphries/Ashgate, 2002, commissioned by the Henry Moore Foundation. Vanessa developed Have You Been Good?  o...
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Book Reviews

  • "'...a startlingly skilful writer and can wring bleak comedy from the unlikeliest material .'"
    Evening Standard
  • "Her vivid and sometimes painfully honest memoir.. must have been extremely difficult to write. It is testament to Nicolson’s skill that it is also hard for the aghast reader to put it down. She has taken the base and battered metal of her life and turned it into gold."
    Cressida Connolly Mail on Sunday
  • "A collection of fragile fragments handled with care."
    Claudia FitzHerbert, Daily Telegraph
  • "The grief is searing... In recording her own roles as both daughter and mother, Nicolson has penned a double helix to motherhood. It accounts for the many shades of experience that shouldn’t be, but so frequently are, endured in families, irrelevant of privilege."
    The Observer
  • "...an admirably frank autobiography, told with feeling. "
    Independent on Sunday