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Carolyn Burke

Lee Miller: A Life

By Judith Rice, The Guardian (UK)

Lee Miller, by Carolyn Burke (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Legendary beauty, surrealist muse, photographer. Lee Miller was all these and more: model, photojournalist, gourmet cook, alcoholic, child rape victim, beloved daughter, mistress, wife, friend, mother . . . Carolyn Burke's startling achievement is to document each persona with empathy and insight, to embed them all in time and place, and to weave the whole together into an absorbing narrative. Respecting Miller's own description of her life as a jigsaw whose pieces did not "match in shape or design," Burke avoids imposing any artificial unity but successfully draws out themes and continuities. Her account of Miller's suburban upbringing in Poughkeepsie, New York, is as meticulous as that of her glamorous years in 1930s Paris and her fervent relationships with such figures as Man Ray and Picasso. When she relays the horrors Miller witnessed as a pioneering journalist in the second world war, she conveys her courage and excitement but prepares us for the way they haunted her in later years. The result is an engrossing double portrait, a subtle analysis of two enigmas: Miller herself and the exhilarating and appalling century in which she lived.