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Unreliable Memoirs (Unreliable Memoirs #1)

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  1,601 ratings  ·  100 reviews
'I was born in 1939. The other big event of that year was the outbreak of the Second World War, but for the moment, that did not affect me.' In the first instalment of Clive James's memoirs, we meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney.
Paperback, First, 175 pages
Published November 7th 2008 by Picador (first published 1980)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,515)
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I quite enjoyed this memoir from one of Australia's best loved writers, the irrepressible Clive James. Almost from the opening pages you can tell this book was written a long time ago, when the structures of books were different and chapters were long and involved multiple ideas. Even the look and feel of the book is different from today's publications - issued in 1980, the text is small and tightly packed onto the page, resulting in a book of 175 pages only. I actually found it quite hard to re ...more
James' memoir about growing up in Australia is often riotously funny -- worth reading for those passages alone. But to my eye, he sidesteps some of the deeper material he could've explored, including his relationship with his widowed mother. That lack makes the book a series of humorous childish adventures, but something less than it could have been in the hands of a writer as brilliant as James.
This book could have been subtitled "The Story of an Australian Penis" because a solid three-quarters of the book is focused rather narrowly on James' pre-pubescent and adolescent sex life. I was rather annoyed by this and also by James' alternately self-pitying and self-chastising tone. I also hated his rather inelegant way of ending nearly every paragraph with some high-minded literary allusion or another. However, despite these shortcomings I plowed through the book quickly and enthusiastical ...more
Reading this reminded me of how much I enjoyed the television reviews written by Clive James in The Observer newspaper many years ago. I love his sense of humour, and it really doesn't matter whether the events described are fact or fiction.
I don’t normally read the introduction to a book until after I have finished it as I like to make up my own mind about what I’m reading.
This time I started off with P.J. O’Rourke singing the praises of „Unreliable Memoirs“, which we‘re told is not only „every thinking persons’memoir“, „something new that no one has done before or will do again“ but „the best memoir in the world“ by „the best-read person he’s ever known“. (In order to find more things to praise, even the town name of Kogarah seem
Robbie Clark
I first read this when I was a young teenager and it's a book I've returned to time and time again.

The strength of the novel is Clive James's self deprecating humour, that has you cringing and laughing at the same time. He's fearless in recounting stories that anyone else would have happily oppressed and forgotten about.

I recommend this book to everyone I know and keep having to buy myself new copies because of the one's I give away.

Read it and enjoy.
Andrew Cotterill
James can really write, and he is - of course - funny. He can be a bit hard on himself at times (probably with good reason) although difficult to know how much has been changed to protect people. Probably bad idea to read the whole book, which is a compendium of 3 books, all in one go; should've read other books between each.

Now I need to track down and read everything else he has written.
If the anecdotes/mentions of the narrator's penis had been reduced by 70%, this book would have gotten another star.

Aside from the infatuation with penile escapades, this book suffered from being a memoir which read like a collection of paragraphs the author read out loud at open mic night.

The best part was trying to figure out all the bizarre Australian slang.
Rob Adey
Wonderful, funny book. A lot more like the Bash Street Kids than I expected. If like me you grew up seeing a lot of Clive James on TV, it's impossible not to imagine this in his voice (a good thing). It's a bonus if you imagine a middle-aged Clive James dressed in shorts, riding go-karts, getting caned by teachers etc. too.
Vincent Odhiambo
A quite funny coming of age book, thoroughly enjoyed Clive harking back to a past so rich. The tone of nostalgia, especially given the fact that Clive had spent the better part of his adult life away from Australia, certainly adds an original air and one can't help but love it.
Vivid, chatty and amusing, but I didn't find it nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as other reviews would have you believe.
Adam Johnson
will make you laugh out loud on the train, very funny, very much worth a read.
Robert Spencer
As a memoir, I think this really hits the spot: it's entertaining, rich in detail and (don't believe some of the other reviews, although I guess humour is a subjective thing) extremely funny. Clive James has been criticised for not providing a deep enough insight into himself, but what do you want? This is a memoir, not a piece of self psychoanalysis, so any view you form of the writer should be based on the events described and his own perception of his motivations. You need to come up with you ...more
This first book of James' memoirs covers his childhood and first go at University.

James calls his memoir 'unreliable', right in the title. James is telling the reader that this is a fictive memoir, a recollection of actual events and people but combined with fiction. True stories may be exaggerated or expanded upon with fiction elements, some tales may be invented, depictions of people may be accurate or partially or entirely fiction. It is assumed though, that even with a generous dose of ficti
If my rating were based solely on the earlier chapters it would be 4 stars at least. The opening had some very funny material; I laughed aloud and couldn't stop if I tried. The first few chapters were filled with vivid comic imagery and the words themselves were very funny, such as the use of 'tonk' for a part of male anatomy. I loved the stories of neighbourhood adventure with the other local kids, such as the chain of billy carts filled with smaller children clutching their toys. I was reminde ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Clive James has always seemed a man unsure whether he was a serious academic or a wannabe comedian. These recollections of childhood through school and university in mid-Century Australia reveal the dilemma in embryo.

From his early learning years James offers an account of himself as naturally gifted but inherently unenthusiastic. The selfishness of his relationship with his mother is viewed with ambivalent eyes - he did what he wanted, progressed with her support but seems to think he should h
Rachael Hewison
I wasn’t even sure as to whether or not to put this book in my biographies shelf as there are many times that Clive James refers to the work as a piece of fiction with names changed, people made up and events seemingly figments of his imagination. This is just the first piece in a complex conundrum and led to me often wondering; what was the point in even calling it a biography if some or all of the events had been falsified?
It was however an okay read, mediocre most of the way through in terms
Lauren Albert
James is on my short list of people I envy terribly. Brilliant, extravagantly well-read, and funny to boot. I've read his criticism but never his other nonfiction so I didn't know what to expect. Unreliable Memoirs is his affectionate book-length mockery of himself as a child and young man. From spider bites to go cart crashes, it's a wonder that his mother didn't have a nervous breakdown. "The only thing I liked about school was skipping around in circles until the music stopped, then lying dow ...more
Lyn Ryan
I read Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs when I was a young traveller in the UK (and then immediately reading the sequel Falling Towards England). I remember laughing out loud when reading it, possibly the first book that had ever prompted me to do so. Recently I re-read it, prompting only the occasional guffaw. It's still great fun. I'll never forget his metaphor - sailing through Sydney heads (towards England) was like being born again.
Geoff Maddock
Love this. A very personal read. It was first published when James was 40 and had been away from his Australian home for 15 years. I am just reading it for the first time with the same numbers to the same experiences. I didn't know this till the end of the book and it seems more than coincidental insofar as I enjoyed it beyond my expectations. Beyond the particularities mentioned above, this book is a masterly piece of writing that easily inspires laughter and wonder. Some books you wish you cou ...more
Rob Walter
To me, this book is an absolute classic. There were parts where I was unable to read any further because of the tears of laughter in my eyes, but that probably prevented the more serious damage that could have resulted from reading on and laughing even more. However a great book needs more than humour, it needs to mean something, and this book addresses profound themes concerning family, love, confidence, life choices, regret and self-acceptance. I have read this book before, but I was astonishe ...more
Blue Mountains Library
this was chosen by someone in book group and I have read it several times already but was happy to read it again. In fact I bought all 5 Unreliable Memoirs books in one go for my ereader. This one covers Clive’s life up to the end of his time at Sydney University. I just love Clive James’ tongue-in-cheek, dry humour.

Well-written and entertaining but ended too abruptly. I agree With the other reviewers about the penile references- could have done with far fewer of those. But I appreciated James' artistry with his writing and his self-deprecating manner.
Listened to this audio book with great delight. Many descriptive pieces reminded me of my own childhood. It was easy to imagine Clive growing up in these circumstances which moulded him into the great humorist that he has become.
Didn't enjoy it as much as my husband did who had tears streaming down his face at some of the stories.Seems like he really needed a dad around !!
A fictionalized autobiography of a writer’s school days in Australia, or an autobiographical novel, according to him. Anyway, the book is both appallingly funny — although the writing is staccato and not very ornate, he times a punchline with impeccable skill — and genuinely interesting as an account of 1940s and '50s Sydney from the eyes of a child and then an adolescent. It also contains a few quite perspicacious insights into human, or at least a cynical human’s, nature, such as: "I rather li ...more
Gary Murning
James's seemingly endless self-flagellation (figuratively speaking) aside, this was a too-brief delight of wit and finely honed observation. One for naughty little boys (and girls) everywhere.
Richard Harrison
Delightful, charming and very, very funny.

James paints a vivid, colourful picture with such brilliant economy of words.

Absolutely in hysterics. I feel as though Australians and Americans, while different in some ways, are the most similar in character, in others, on a global scale... In the odd ways anyway.
Sandi Mann
Nov 14, 2014 Sandi Mann rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: aussies only!
well, it was funny and witty as expected...but far too much about masturbation (his) for me to enjoy...FAR too much!
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

An expatriate Australian broadcast personality and author of cultural criticism, memoir, fiction, travelogue and poetry. Translator of Dante.
More about Clive James...

Other Books in the Series

Unreliable Memoirs (5 books)
  • Falling Towards England
  • May Week Was in June
  • North Face of Soho
  • The Blaze of Obscurity
Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts Falling Towards England May Week Was in June North Face of Soho Flying Visits

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“Rilke used to say that no poet would mind going to gaol, since he would at least have time to explore the treasure house of his memory. In many respects Rilke was a prick.” 5 likes
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