Have You Been Good?

A Memoir

Vanessa Nicolson

Published: 4 February 2016
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 320 pages
ISBN: 9781783780785


Vanessa Nicolson is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. She was born to an illustrious name and an unhappy marriage. Her father, the art historian Ben Nicolson, was homosexual and his marriage to Vanessa's Italian mother fell apart when Vanessa was very young.

In this powerful and meditative memoir she chronicles her disjointed childhood and reckless youth, including holidays at Sissinghurst Castle with her cousins, and her experience of a liberal English boarding school. Interlinked with her story is that of her daughter Rosa, who died, aged 19.

This book is a meditation on the threads of love and loss that weave through a life and an examination of the meaning of cultural privilege in the context of emotional deprivation.

About the author

Image of Vanessa Nicolson

Vanessa Nicolson was brought up in London and Florence and has worked as an art historian and journalist. Her publications include The Sculpture of Maurice Lambert (Lund Humphries / Ashgate, 2002), commissioned by the Henry Moore Foundation. She is married to the writer Andrew Davidson and lives in Sissinghurst. More about the author


‘[A] heartbreaking memoir’ ‘Books of 2015’



‘A book of unflinching honesty, full of wisdom and rare courage Virginia Nicholson, author

‘A brutal, frank, and bittersweet memoir of poverty amid privilege’ Peter Stothard, author

‘A collection of fragile fragments, handled with care’

‘A searing and uncomfortable book... beautifully written’ Vanessa Berridge

‘An admirably frank autobiography, told with feeling’ Lesley McDowell

‘An intriguing family history done with acute insight and rueful humour’ Iain Finlayson

‘Beautiful and honest’ Victoria Hislop, ‘Summer Read’

‘Full of vigorous humour and sharp social comment’ Charlotte Moore, Books of the Year

‘In recording her own roles as both daughter and mother, Nicolson has penned a double helix to motherhood. It accounts for the many shades of experience that shouldn't be, but so frequently are, endured in families, irrelevant of privilege’ Rebecca Swirsky


‘Nicolson is a startlingly skilful writer and can wring bleak comedy from the unlikeliest of material... This level of honesty lifts the book into a league of its own: the enduring feeling, however, is of the author's own dogged inner vitality’ Claire Harman

‘Nicolson writes with rare and painful honesty about her unhappy childhood, her many mistakes, and the tragic death of her daughter’ Simon Shaw

‘Poignant... While there are harrowing aspects to Vanessa's story they are leavened by an atmospheric account of a life that was privileged in some ways, underprivileged in others but [...] always fascinating’ Charlotte Heathcote

‘Set in the context of a perennially fascinating family, it's also a powerful meditation on cultural privilege in an environment of emotional deprivation. Engrossing’ Caroline Sanderson ‘Editor’s Choice’

‘Vivid and sometimes painfully honest... She has taken the base and battered metal of her life and turned it into gold’

‘You finish this beautifully written, highly affecting memoir feeling that Vanessa Nicolson hasn't always been good, but wishing above all else that her mother could open her handbag now and, finally, give her the gift of love’ Marcus Field

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