editor's choice

Susie Boyt’s wonderful My Judy Garland Life



Icon n. – person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”



‘ICON’ IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST OVER-USED WORDS in the English language. We apply it with little thought or reason. Yet there are a handful of truly iconic figures – the legend that is Judy Garland leading the charge. And, as 2019 is the fiftieth anniversary of the star’s death and the eightieth of The Wizard of Oz‘s release, Virago have republished Susie Boyt’s wonderful My Judy Garland Life, in which Judy is celebrated in all her glory and is awarded the attention she deserves.

When Judy’s in the house, the unendurable and the delightful go hand in hand, hoisted and throbbing across the room, demanding your greatest respect. There’s no need for alleviation when Judy sings, no room for dilution or pretence. Likewise courage and fear, by this time, are silly and cosmetic. When Judy sings, your heart of hearts has no other home but her throat.’

And that’s true. There’s nothing like Judy singing ‘The Man That Got Away’, particularly in the outtakes, for stripping everything back to the bare bones.

This is a book that, in many ways, defies definition. It’s a memoir, yes, one that’s intensely personal, tracing the lines between adulation and obsession, a biography of a much-loved and respected star, but it’s also a study of how our icons can save us – from misery, from grief, from being lost, instead making us feel like we belong. It’s a joy to read.

It’s obvious that I loved this book and probably would have done anyway. Judy is part of my story, part of my childhood, part of my memories of my late mama who, dressed in beautiful saris, would sit us down in front of Meet Me in St Louis, Easter Parade, The Wizard of Oz, and duet with Hannah, Esther, Dorothy while she bustled about, only to sit with us moments later, equally mesmerised by Judy in those quiet moments, when she just broke our hearts.

And that’s the beauty of Ms Garland, a larger than life presence who, through her voice, her honesty, her effervescence, takes us out of the mundanity of our daily worlds, elevating us to something more. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. She makes us believe.


Music: ‘The Man That Got Away’: outtake 2 (and here’s Outtake 1, too!); ‘Get Happy‘ (1950); ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas‘ (1944).



My Judy Garland Life | Susie Boyt | 2019 | Virago | paperback (anniversary edition with new preface) | £10.99 

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Acknowledgements: Definition of ‘icon’ from Oxford Lexico. Book text quote © 2008, 2019 Susie Boyt. Many thanks to Anne Cater, Georgina Moore and to the publisher for sending a review copy. Image of Judy Garland singing ‘The Man That Got Away’ (1954) used for promotional purposes only. Book image © The Literary Shed 2019. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.





Also of interest:In the Absence of Miracles‘; ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Rememembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: Amanda Saint‘;‘Ausma Zehanat Khan’; Mary Balogh‘; ‘Louise Voss’; ‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ’Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Any images are used for promotional purposes only. If we have unintentionally breached your copyright, please contact us and we will take the image down immediately. Thank you so much.








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