Judith Thurman can make you read about things you’re not interested in. A $4,000 Judith Leiber handbag, for instance. Or was it a clutch? If you think you’re not interested in that, it’s because you just don’t know enough about the world. There has to be a reason–doesn’t there?–why such a bejeweled reticule exists. You just need to know who it’s for, where one gets it, and why it may or may not work with a very, very soft sweater by the Olsen twins. Ms. Thurman knows these things precisely, and explains them in language sharper than any of the diamonds she must occasionally mention, if she’s to give a full picture of the world. It’s hardly all crumpets, Swarovski and Chanel either: biographies of Isak Dinesen and Colette? Check. To write the former she learned Danish, just to be sure. National Book Award, 1983.
Ms. Thurman’s soignée style and singular sensibility derive from a penetrating gaze that itself derives from a distrust of, and dissatisfaction with, surfaces—paradoxical, almost, for someone who reports about so many beautiful things. There’s a sculptor at work on the sentences and a director in charge of the arc. Nothing, she seems to say with every breath, is unimportant in this world—neither the Nobel Prize nor that extra half-inch of heel. The great writer shows all the world, rich and strange. Judith Thurman can be trusted. Those are pearls that are her eyes.