Book review: I’ll Drop You a Line: A Life with David Marcus

I’ll Drop You a Line, his habitual closing words in conversation with his authors, is Ita Daly’s story of the literary editor David Marcus and her life with him followed by the grief of his death. Here she recalls how they met.

Ita Daly

Londubh Books, €12

THE first time I met David Marcus I was struck by his Cork accent which, despite his years in London and Dublin, was remarkably unadulterated. 

It is said that the more musical one is the more likely one is to pick up accents and as David was extremely musical I am left wondering if he had made a deliberate choice.

It wouldn’t surprise me as he had an attachment to his native city that never waned.

We used to go down there regularly to stay with his uncle and aunt, Gerald and Sheila Goldberg. 

They lived in a large house, with a beautiful garden and an amazing art collection. 

We also visited his grandaunt, Fanny, who lived in what used to be called Jewtown (the Albert Rd area). 

Here, the modest houses crowd in on one another, opening directly on to the narrow streets.

Ita Daly & David Marcus.
Ita Daly & David Marcus.

In a short time the Goldberg and Marcus families had followed a trajectory which took them from poverty to middle class prosperity, so that in David’s own family all four sons received a university education, two of them becoming doctors, surely every upwardly mobile mother’s dream, whether Jew or Gentile.

David loved to walk the length of St Patrick’s Street — “doing Pana”, as it was called when he was a boy. 

I have seen photographs of him as a young man and he was very good looking. 

I can imagine him cutting quite a figure as he walked along, eyeing up the girls.

That I can imagine such things is due in large part to the writing of I’ll Drop You a Line. 

It was a task I undertook with great reluctance and I would not have done it without the encouragement of Jo O’Donoghoe of Londubh Books. 

Now that I hold the book in my hand and look down at the photograph of David on the cover I am grateful to her.

The five years before David’s death in 2009 were years in which I watched him growing more and more distant as dementia took hold. 

The disease affected him physically and mentally and after his death the image I had in front of my eyes was of his shrunken body and poor, confused eyes. 

I had forgotten the other man — the husband and father, the amazingly successful editor, the shy man whom so many people genuinely liked, maybe even loved.

AuthorDavid Marcus pictured in Dublin.
Author David Marcus pictured in Dublin.

Once I accepted Jo’s suggestion I found I had none of the ambivalence that I usually have when I am beginning a novel or story. 

I knew what I was going to write, the plot was there and the title came to me promptly. 

I have never been able to find a title for any of my novels — David did that — but I knew at once what I would call this book. 

“I’ll drop you a line” was what David said to his authors, a promise that he always fulfilled, working on his electric typewriter, his nod to modernity.

He never used a computer or sent an email, though towards the end I sent some for him. He wrote people letters, he dropped them a line.

The fact that I had found a title so typical of the man — old fashioned in nearly every way, he never even updated his slang — pleased me and made me feel good about the book. 

It was a labour of love, a memoir, bringing into my conscious mind events and feelings that I had forgotten or buried. 

I was also — and this was more important — reminding people of David’s worth and maybe even introducing him to younger people who hadn’t known him.

I am happy to describe I’ll Drop You a Line as a memoir, a genre of which I am very fond. 

It is not making any great claims, there is nothing definitive about it, as it is not based on research but on emotion. 

To write a memoir you have to have known the person and also felt strongly enough about them to want to write about their life. 

There is revenge memoir and there is hagiographic memoir — I hope I have written neither, though there was a strong temptation to turn David into a saint.

When I began the book I started by examining our relationship and I remembered how much he had had to put up with, sharing his life with me. 

I remembered my fits of bad temper and how often I blamed him, unjustly, for something that had gone wrong in my life.

Ita Daly, widow of David Marcus
Ita Daly, widow of David Marcus

I remembered his honour, his calmness in the face of provocation. I was consumed by guilt.

Then, as I continued to write I remembered he had been hard to live with too. 

He had been too calm, too considered, refusing to lose his temper when it was the only reasonable course open to him.

I decided he had been just as imperfect as me. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement but it was enough to let me get on with the book and enjoy writing it.

I found it a much less angst-ridden process than novel writing, something I also love but don’t find easy. 

With a novel I worry about what direction I should go in, whether there is a contradiction between the characters I have created and the things I make them do because of the demands of the plot.

There was none of that with I’ll Drop You a Line. Each morning I sat down at my desk and knew what I was going to write as I followed the path of our life together. 

I can’t deny a little tidying up here and there, a rounding of sharp angles: once a fiction writer always a fiction writer and there are elegancies that must be observed. 

However, these were minor details and, overall, I have tried to be as honest as I can for I know that anything less would be a disservice to David’s memory.

I have left things out — of course — but I hope I have also let the reader in sufficiently for them to have a sense of who this man was, to have a flavour of him.

Writing I’ll Drop You a Line straightened things out for me and let me realise an important truth: we were lucky to have found each other and lucky to have spent 37 years together, for better or for worse.

David’s last wish was that he should be cremated. 

We fulfilled his wish, then we took him home. 

Our daughter, Sarah, and I and our friends, Bill and Liz Wall, scattered his ashes into the River Lee and around the Mardyke and the cricket field opposite his house where he learned to love the game from looking out his bedroom window as a small boy.

I think he is happy there; I think you know what I mean.


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