Olivia Manning (1908–80) is best known for her Balkan trilogy, The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City, and Friends and Heroes,published between 1960 and 1965, and later made into a BBC television series, starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. The trilogy was by no means recognized as a great work when it first appeared, and it remains true—as Jeffrey Meyers commented in these pages (“The play’s the thing,” September 2009)—that the Balkan trilogy is among the “most underrated novels of the twentieth century.” Why this should be so is not an issue that Deirdre David addresses directly in this new biography of Manning, perhaps not wanting to engage in special pleading for a writer who can stand on her own. But Manning herself felt deeply wounded when contemporaries such as Doris Lessing, Muriel Spark, and Margaret...

 

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