John Mortimer is a playwright, novelist, and former practicing barrister. He is the author of ten collections of Rumpole stories, two previous volumes of autobiography, and the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Knighted in 1978, Mortimer lives with his wife and youngest daughter in Oxfordshire, England.
The title of this third installment of his autobiography comes from a passage in Lord Byron's journals: "When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), sleep, eating and swilling, buttoning and unbuttoning how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse."
Although life is fleeting, Sir John at 77 keeps active. His physical ailments slow him down an ulcerated leg, bronchial asthma, glaucoma, and a tendency for his retinas to become displaced. He observes: "The experience of old age is that, in a body maimed and incapacitated by time, you feel much as you did when you were eleven. The great weight of years, the unexpected experiences, the happy and terrifying moments are still judged by eyes fully opened in the playground."
Sir John is a lively exemplar of the spiritual practice of wonder as he works in Italy on the screenplay for Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussolini, raises money to renovate the Royal Court Theatre, travels to North America for a book tour, fills an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, sits at the death bed of his first wife, hosts a fundraiser for a prison, writes a television adaptation of the Laurie Lee memoir Cider with Rosie, and vacations in Morocco.
Through it all, the author maintains a zest for life that is fueled by a love of literature, an unusual sense of humor, and a gift for telling amusing stories. The Summer of a Dormouse makes a good case for the adventures of old age.