She was born in Chicago, but as with T.S. Eliot — another American, with whom she worked in the 1960s at the London publishing house Faber & Faber — a British facade became the entire edifice.
Her reputation was warmed up in almost sitcom fashion when Nina Stibbe, who had worked as a nanny for Wilmers and her family in the early 1980s, wrote a fond and semisatirical memoir titled “Love, Nina” (2014). It caught the bohemian chaos of the Wilmers household. Reviewing that book, I described its portrait of Wilmers this way: “She’s skinny; she smokes; she brings her floppy-haired boyfriends around; she stares at the ceiling when she wants to let you know you’re being an idiot.”
Wilmers has perfected the art of staring at the ceiling in print as well. Reviewing a book called “The Faber Book of Seductions,” she writes: “If one were to judge English literature by this anthology one might wonder why plain women bothered to read books at all.” The essays in “Human Relations” feel sturdy, built to last.
Book critic’s rule No. 118: When necessary, find a tenuous link between two new books and yoke them together.
Wilmers began her career, as mentioned, at Faber & Faber, the venerable English publishing house — the longtime home of writers including Eliot, W.H. Auden, William Golding, Samuel Beckett, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes (for many decades this was indeed a boys’ club), Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon.
In a new book titled “Faber & Faber: The Untold Story,” Toby Faber, the grandson of the company’s founder, relates this house’s story as it celebrates its 90th anniversary. He does so ingeniously, compiling it from original documents — letters, memos, catalog copy, diary entries. It’s a jigsaw puzzle that slowly comes together.