Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781474612807

Price: £30

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‘This is the biography – truthful, sympathetic and thorough – that Coward deserves’

The voice, the dressing-gown, the cigarette in its holder, remain unmistakable. There is rarely a week when one of Private Lives, Hay Fever, and Blithe Spirit is not in production somewhere in the world. Phrases from Noël Coward’s songs – “Mad About The Boy”, “Mad Dogs and Englishman” – are forever lodged in the public consciousness. He was at one point the most highly paid author in the world. Yet some of his most striking and daring writing remains unfamiliar. As T.S. Eliot said, in 1954, “there are things you can learn from Noël Coward that you won’t learn from Shakespeare”.

Coward wrote some fifty plays and nine musicals, as well as revues, screenplays, short stories, poetry, and a novel. He was both composer and lyricist for approximately 675 songs. Louis Mountbatten’s famous tribute argued that, while there were greater comedians, novelists, composers, painters and so on, only “the master” had combined fourteen talents in one. So central was he to his age’s theatre that any account of his career is also a history of the British stage. And so daring was Coward’s unorthdoxy in his closest relationships, obliquely reflected throughout his writing, that it must also be a history of sexual liberation in the twentieth century. In Oliver Soden’s sparkling, story-packed new Life, the Master finally gets his due.


A masterly account of the Master - including stuff we didn't know before. And so beautifully and entertainingly written
Gyles Brandreth
Praise for Jeoffrey: The Poet's Cat Simply unforgettable ... one of the most beautiful and haunting books of recent times
Alexander McCall Smith
Praise for Michael Tippett: The Biography Generous, game-changing biography
A captivating biography
Kate Maltby, Financial Times
This is a sympathetic and very touching biography. Soden makes the daring decision to write occasional sections in imitation of Coward's style. Not every biographer would be up to this, but Soden pulls it off. The ending is particularly good - first skating around Coward's last days, letting him evaporate like Elvira, then giving us a chorus of biographers, boyfriends and household servants to narrate it in detail. But the whole book is beautifully done, and will last . . . There's every reason to think Coward will last forever - and this excellent biography is just what he deserves
Philip Hensher, Spectator
Praise for Jeoffrey: The Poet's Cat Inspired and original
Hilary Mantel
Excellent . . . reveals Coward to be a more complex individual than we had acknowledged
Michael Billington, Guardian
Soden's verve and way of handling the subject completely breathes new life into an absolutely extraordinary story . . . I really recommend it, it's a fascinating look at somebody who is still relevant fifty years after his death
Soden, who has had access to unpublished diaries and letters, comes up with a far more complex Coward than we have seen before... This is a highly illuminating book that makes us reconsider Coward
Michael Billington, Country Life
Praise for Michael Tippett: The Biography That rarest of things: a genuine landmark publication
BBC Radio 3 Music Matters
Praise for Michael Tippett: The Biography An exceptional piece of work
Philip Hensher, Spectator
Praise for Jeoffrey: The Poet's Cat I intend to give a copy to everyone I like
Andrew O’Hagan
Assiduous, even-handed, readable . . . astute
Dominic Maxwell, The Times
Masquerade is a pleasure to read - not just for Oliver Soden's splendid survey of Coward's life, but also for the rhythm and tempo of his writing as he parries with his mercurial subject. This Coward commands our empathy: more real, more mortal, "more Noël than Coward", as Soden intended... His fallibility renders him more likeable, lovable even. With this enriched arc from conception to denouement, the myth is made man. At last, the character of Noël Coward makes sense.
Sarah Gabriel, The Critic
What a pleasure it is to read a book into which so much labour, and so much affection, have evidently gone. But the labour is never flaunted and the affection is mingled with the same sophisticated irony that made Coward such a giant of the theatre. This is the biography - truthful, sympathetic and thorough - that Coward deserves
Nikhil Krishnan, Daily Telegraph