Jigsaw by Sybille Bedford


Jigsaw by Sybille Bedford


This intensely remembered, partly autobiographical novel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989, describes the childhood of Billi, a girl growing up in Europe between the wars. When her father dies, she swaps life in a run-down German château for an exhilarating existence with her beautiful, talented and unreliable mother on the French Riviera.

Sent away to England for schooling, the gypsy-like Billi ricochets between short-lived tutors and a life of reading, friends and public lectures. Returning to the Mediterranean, her unorthodox education – academic, emotional and sexual – continues among the vibrant community of artists, exiles and intellectuals who have colonised the coast, coaxing her towards a life of literature. 

‘A deliciously evoked return to worlds, and a Europe, now almost vanished.’ - John Fowles
‘... a tense, dense autobiographical novel ... strong writing, wonderful settings, electrifying family dynamics ....’ - Victoria Glendinning
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Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education
ISBN: 978-0907871-79-8
Format: 368pp demi pb


Author Biography

Sybille Bedford was born in Charlottenburg, Germany, in 1911, and was privately educated in Italy, England and France. She published her first book, The Sudden View: A Mexican Journey, in 1953. By the time it was reissued, seven years later, as A Visit to Don Otavio, it had won a reputation as a classic of travel writing. A Legacy appeared in 1956, and three other novels have followed: A Favourite of the Gods (1963), A Compass Error (1968) and Jigsaw (1989), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

The Best We Can Do (1958), an account of the murder trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams, was the first of Mrs Bedford's writings on law at work. She has reported on some of the most important criminal trials of our times, including those of Jack Ruby and the former staff at Auschwitz. The Faces of Justice (1961) collected her observations on the courts in England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. As It Was (1990) brought together further essays on justice as well as her celebrated writings on food, wine and European travel.

In 1973 Mrs Bedford published a two-volume, authorized life of her friend and mentor Aldous Huxley. Stephen Spender called this book 'one of the masterpieces of biography'.

Mrs Bedford lives in London, where she is vice president of English PEN. In 1981 she was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1994 was elected a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature. This new edition of Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education coincides with the publication of Sybille Bedford's memoir Quicksands in June 2005.

Extract from Jigsaw

He had been brought up in a house like Feldkirch, like Feldkirch before we were alone. There had been brothers, country pursuits, they had been happy. One boy was sent to cadet school, could not bear it and made a dramatic escape, walking by night, hiding by day, making immense detours to escape re-capture. He reached home half-starved, half-crazed. They fed him up, then sent him back. He tried to kill himself by swallowing a box of matches. They sent him back all the same. He did not go mad, he was not put away. In fact he became a cavalry officer, commander of his regiment and in due course he married. How far was he maimed? Too late to say. Eccentric he must have been. Animals were his interest and he had a great way with them. Wild animals. He kept wolves and used to give them jewelled collars for Christmas, or so my father told me without turning a hair. Sapphires (were they really?) for the wolves, not for the wife; my father’s tone indicated that this was a mistake. The wife was a beautiful young woman with a great appeal to men. My father’s brother was stationed in a small garrison town called Allenstein at the confines of East Prussia, and she is supposed to have slept with half the regiment, commissioned and non-commissioned. One Christmas night (1908 or’09) a captain came to dinner; afterwards he pretended to leave and instead hid in the drive. When the house was in darkness he crept back. He had put thick socks over his shoes and he had a revolver in his pocket. My father’s brother called out, Who’s there? and turned on a light. He stood in that light and the captain shot at him and killed him. In prison he wrote a confession saying that he had been madly in love with the colonel’s wife, Antonia was her name, and that she had made him do it. The captain hanged himself in his cell before the trial. Antonia was arrested and tried for murder; she was sentenced to death. A psychiatric expert managed to get her certified and she was not executed – which according to German law would have been by the axe – but confined instead in a mental institution. From that she was released, by the psychiatrist’s efforts, within weeks. They went to Italy and got married. The Allenstein murder was a national sensation. At the time my mother was engaged to my father. She was about to doubt the wisdom of her engagement when my father’s brother was shot and she found it no longer permissible to back out. They were married in 1910. Some people found it amusing to ask when being introduced to her, ‘The murderess?’ whose name of course she bore now. Eventually she took my father away and they lived in Spain for a time. My impending birth put an end to that. They went back and bought Feldkirch. I owe my existence to the Allenstein affair.