Unreliable Memoirs
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Unreliable Memoirs (Unreliable Memoirs #1)

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,311 ratings  ·  81 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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
Clive James has written this as he speaks, with a touch of irony. It is a gentle tale of growing up in the southern suburbs of post-war Sydney. While humorous, I didn't find it the side-splitting read that the blurbs promised...
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
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.
I skimmed it after the first few chapters. James' dry Antipodean wit is in evidence throughout, but I found this story of his early years rather dull overall, and I thought he placed too much importance on scatological detail and the awkwardness and, well, grossness, of his sexual awakening for my taste. The book would probably go down better with men and women of his generation who are fans of his TV work.

I used to greatly enjoy watching his review of the year every New Year's Eve with my paren...more
One of the funniest books I have ever read. Charming, witty, laugh-out-loud !
Hilary Hicklin
Extremely funny, warm-hearted and generous. Superb.
Sep 25, 2011 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone, Australians and the unlucky rest of the world.
For anyone who grew up in suburban Australia, this book might be like their own life story. It's full of hilarious childhood fables, yarns and adventures.
It is both very true to life, and full of exaggeration, as childhood stories become larger with each telling. Clive James weaves silliness and wisdom into a curious cloth, and wraps it around his shoulders while jumping off the garage roof to be Superman. Who knew he could fly so high?
This was a really enjoyable read; the way Clive James told the stories of his growing up years in Sydney was intriguing and he writes the way he talks, too, so you could imagine his voice narrating the whole saga as his life unfolded on the pages. It was also interesting to read about Sydney's past, too, in the areas before they were gentrified, such as Paddington and surrounds. All in all, a very funny adaptation, extremely well told.
Harry Lane
This book will be especially appealing to those of a certain age who lived in roughly contemporaneous times. James' appeal is, however, broader than any particular generation. His story of growing up in Australia will resonate in some form or fashion with most everyone. It's not just the events; it's also the expression. Hardly a page went by without at least a chuckle, and there were moments of pure hilarity.
Stephen Pearson
One of the funniest books/autiobigraphies I've ever read, the stories of the Dunny Man and the Billycarts stand out in particular.

I was lucky enough to see Clive James at a Pete Atkin gig (as he wrote the lyrics for Pete's songs) and Clive read out extracts from this book on stage. The way he delivered the stories made them side-split-tingly funny
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.
I always thought James was a smart-arse, and now he's a smart-arse that I don't like any more.

Don't meet your heroes! It turns out that James is just a big-head, and, when you get beneath the surface, not a particularly entertaining or witty one either.

This book was a waste of time. I threw it away (too embarrassed to give it away).

One of the few skills he learned in school, noted Clive Barnes in his "Unreliable Memoirs," was how to parse a sentence, and this ability is on display in his story of growing up in Australia. Beautifully written, disarmingly funny, and more introspective than one would have expected from a forty-year-old, as he was at the time he wrote it.
Possibly the only book which has left both my husband and me literally prostrate with laughter. And no, I'm not abusing the word "literally" there: we ended up on the floor at one point.

The Cambridge bits appealed to me particularly, and I'm relieved to see that I'm not the only person to have fallen in that gutter outside Pembroke.
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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.
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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.” 3 likes
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