The Lives of Others

An Unanchored Heart by Rory Knight Bruce

AN UNANCHORED HEART by Rory Knight Bruce
Reviewed by Juanita Coulson for The Lady

Origin stories fascinate me: especially those we tell ourselves about ourselves. In this compelling memoir the journalist and one-time Horse & Hound hunting correspondent Rory Knight Bruce looks back on his childhood in rural Devon, his time at boarding school and student days, his travels in Greece and working life in London.

Alongside a labyrinth of pithy anecdotes, keenly observed characters and timely mots justes runs the thread of the search for self-knowledge. That thread always leads back to early childhood, when he is abandoned by his mother, who wafts away in a taxi to a glamorous London life. Sporadically present at bejewelled arm’s length, she never shows an ounce of maternal feeling.

An absentee mother and distant father with a cruel streak – this vacuum of affection is revisited often, and leaves an indelible mark. The unanchored heart of the title could refer just as much to his errant mother’s as to the writer’s own.

Like many children from well-connected but broken families Knight Bruce becomes a professional guest, staying with friends for holidays and weekends, honing the social skills that will serve him well in later life. He charms his way into most situations: jobs in advertising and journalism, where he crosses the great divide between sales and editorial at The Spectator; grand parties to which he is uninvited and, of course, women’s beds and hearts. The elder statesman of field sports journalism turns out to have also been a notorious womaniser.

Seduction is at the heart of his memoir, as he wins readers over with a delicious mix of contrasts: disarming honesty and artfully constructed anecdote; vulnerability and archness; refinement and manual labour.

‘All memory, however, is unfair, the kiss of a coward’, he writes towards the end of the book. Reliable or not, Knight Bruce is irresistible, from vivid accounts of his bond with his dogs to the dying days of Fleet Street. As the Italian phrase goes: si non è vero, è ben trovato (even if it’s not true, it’s a good fabrication). This is an entertaining glimpse into the life of a dwindling species: the cultivated gentleman-rogue.

Juanita Coulson

The Lady, 3 March – 6 April 2023