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Unreliable Memoirs (Unreliable Memoirs #1)

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,031 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Before James Frey famously fabricated his memoir, Clive James wrote a refreshingly candid book that made no claims to be accurate, precise, or entirely truthful, only to entertain. In an exercise of literary exorcism, James set out to put his childhood in Australia behind him by rendering it as part novel, part memoir. Now, nearly thirty years after it first came out in En ...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published May 18th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1980)
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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
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
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
Jun 22, 2012 Robbie Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 03, 2008 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 11, 2014 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Oct 08, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many years ago I remember being given this book for my birthday with the comment "thought you might like this, he's the sort of droll smart-arse commentator that should appeal to you". The presenter of this present knew me well, although I think that they did a massive disservice to Clive James.

The first of a series of books he's subsequently written as memoir there is nobody in these books that James picks on more than himself. He has a wonderful, dry way of commenting on the obvious, of drawin
Rob Walter
Feb 10, 2013 Rob Walter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 05, 2008 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Robert Spencer
Sep 23, 2014 Robert Spencer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
₵oincidental   Ðandy
While I've always enjoyed Mr. James's books (I appreciate his delicious brand of humour - which is the main reason for reading this one) & despite the admonishment of a critic from the Observer (printed on the back of the book) who warns the potential reader: " had better not read the book on the train, unless you are unselfconscious about shrieking and snorting in public..." I found myself neither shrieking nor snorting uncontrollably - in public or otherwise; Mr. James does, however, ...more
Cass Moriarty
Jul 20, 2016 Cass Moriarty rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Clive James' book Unreliable Memoirs has long been on my 'To Be Read' list, but I have to say that after wanting to read it for so long, and hearing it promoted as 'the funniest book I've ever read', the actuality was a bit disappointing. Yes, James is articulate and entertaining, yes he has a great vocabulary, yes there are witty flashes of brilliance, yes this book gives us glimpses into the mind of the man who is undoubtably an Australian icon, but still...maybe I was missing something. I sup ...more
Scott Munden
I wanted to like this first of three memoirs from Clive James. I've never read any of his books but I had enjoyed his intelligent wit through other media and I fully expected to have a similar experience with "Unreliable Memoirs". I'll make this quick... I didn't.

I simply didn't find the book all that funny - not in the least. I also didn't like the young James at all. He just comes across as any run-of-the-mill brat. The stories that make up his youth aren't funny or interesting and offer littl
Lyn Ryan
Apr 23, 2015 Lyn Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Andrew Cotterill
Jul 31, 2012 Andrew Cotterill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 08, 2009 Elise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2012 Rob Adey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 15, 2013 Vincent Odhiambo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
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.
Feb 17, 2016 Carlton rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
I do not usually read autobiography, but I fancied something light and humorous. This is certainly light and humorous.
I enjoyed it, and could hear James' Australian drawl throughout, but I did not enjoy it as much as The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, which does a similar thing for that author's American childhood, but with better historical detail slipped in and more reflection on the passage of time.
I was reading a Folio Society edition which was, as ever, beautiful to h
Jun 04, 2010 Emilie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vivid, chatty and amusing, but I didn't find it nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as other reviews would have you believe.
Humorous style but self-deprecating to the point where I couldn't stand reading about such a vain, shallow youth.
Adam Johnson
Aug 23, 2011 Adam Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
will make you laugh out loud on the train, very funny, very much worth a read.
Michael Burge
Clive James' first memoir is a time capsule bursting with relics from a suburban Australian childhood. Thirty-five years after its first publication, it sits uneasily in a culture that may have evolved around it, yet it contains the seeds of our time in the author's 'bloggy' voice.

Clive James is an icon and a cliché. The person who remains most shocked about the ease of his advancement into the box seat of popular culture is him, although 'Unreliable Memoirs' gives several insights into the raw
Jul 21, 2013 Terry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Cameron Desautels
Aside from a few absolutely gut-busting lines (more than once causing me to embarrass myself reading at a bar in Vancouver), the occasional outsider's insight (wat) into the global reputation of the United States, and a dash of unusually self-aware commentary on identity, I don't think there was much here that I'll take with me. Maybe more here for someone who strongly identifies with the author's awkward / socially-outcast childhood.
Geoff Maddock
Jan 04, 2015 Geoff Maddock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 18, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is difficult to know what is fact and what is fiction, but does it really matter? An amusing and shocking story of Clive James "The Kid from Kogarah" growing up in Australia. He and his friends would do daredevil stunts like jumping out of trains as they slowed to the platform, until one of his friends jumped onto a platform where the train wasn't stopping and ended up in hospital.
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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

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