As the song says, Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry - but I'm going to do it anyway. I love Stephen Fry. If I too were (to use his phrase from thisAs the song says, Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry - but I'm going to do it anyway. I love Stephen Fry. If I too were (to use his phrase from this book) "not like other boys" then I wouldn't be writing reviews of his books. I'd be out there stalking him. Fortunately for both of us, I'm not.
Fry at 51 is a beautiful man, and deserves credit for being so honest as to show what a smug, selfish, preening, dishonest and downright callous little b-----d he was at 10, 14 and 18. If that sounds harsh, it's nothing compared with how harshly Fry judges himself.
Even as he wrote this book (aged 40) he couldn't help showing off at times, which shows us that part of that insufferable little fellow is still there. Not that we need to be told that one of the best-loved men in Britain is insecure; it's part of his charm.
And although he is harrowingly honest, he occasionally stops short. He half-heartedly tries to put some of the blame for his stealing on his love for "Matthew", even though he has been a shameless thief since before he can remember. And he never seriously tackles what made him so amoral from such an early age.
Nonetheless, it is a beautifully written tale of redemption. One is left feeling that it was a minor miracle that he could save himself after throwing away every opportunity given to him.
It's not perfect. There are errors of English that should never appear in any book, let alone one by Stephen Fry (the worst examples are "baited breath" and "Rolls Royce's"). Regrettably, the present edition comes in a cover seemingly designed by the same people who do Jeremy Clarkson's covers. It's ugly, and nothing by Stephen Fry should be associated with ugliness.
But even with those criticisms, it's highly recommended. Some of the philosophical diversions are enlightening (if rather too adult for the younger reader), and Fry's characteristic humour shines through on every page. There are some glorious metaphors and, even if it is not as flawless as some reviewers suggest, it is still highly recommended. ...more
There are moments of startling absurdist fantasy in Madame Depardieu & The Beautiful Strangers. Unfortunately, most of them are contained in the pThere are moments of startling absurdist fantasy in Madame Depardieu & The Beautiful Strangers. Unfortunately, most of them are contained in the press reviews quoted on the cover, because for the first 80-odd pages this is one of the most tedious books I have read in years. While it does improve later on, it is fundamentally flawed and constantly misfires.
Even Umberto Eco's notoriously boring The Island of the Day Before, with its interminable diversions on heraldry and medieval theology, at least has some intellectual value. Quirke's book is a miserable pageant of male characters seemingly being auditioned (and rejected) for the role of main character in another book. All are held together by the tenuous thread of a leading lady who resembles Bridget Jones only with her personality hollowed out and replaced by a tarnished tin-foil mannequin on whose surface the faces of actors are dimly reflected. And she's left the jokes out.
I'm confused. Is this a novel or an autobiography? I'm not sure Quirke knows herself. If it's the latter, who is Antonia Quirke to merit an entire book about herself? If it's a novel, why choose characters who are so ill-defined and artistically unsatisfying? Take Wilson, a Texan who has fled to London after killing a man for $200. You wouldn't think that anyone could make such a character boring, but Quirke manages it. Wilson shuffles into her life, mumbles a few words, shags her (probably) and then shuffles out again after a few pages, having lapsed from taciturnity into total silence.
When Quirke loses interest in her male characters, which happens every few pages (though not before the reader has), she dribbles off a half-baked essay about some actor or film, as if the book is a depository for her unfinished reviews or pieces that were rejected by Empire, the Sunday Times or the Basingstoke & North Hants Gazette.
Yes, there are moments of poignancy and insight, but one is left with the impression that Quirke felt compelled to write a novel -- for the kudos and the career prospects -- when what she really wanted to write (and should have written) was an encyclopedia of actors.
Quirke is only any good when when she is writing about films, when she's on home ground, when she's safe safe SAFE! Safe, in her comfort zone, where the celebs who praise her on the dust jacket are familiar and comfortable with her writing, where she's their pal Antonia, but she's not your Antonia and she's not My Antonia and nor is her book.
Her fugue on Jeremy Irons' performance in Betrayal is brilliant, but that's what she does for a living and it ain't novel writing and this is supposed to be a novel (or maybe an autobiography).
Antonia Quirke is a brilliant critic and columnist, and the more of her journalism I read the more I like her. But she's not a novelist - not yet anyway.
You shouldn't necessarily be put off. Quirke knows how to stick words together in a pleasing way, and if you are immersed in the world of film stars and celebrity - but with enough discernment to see the ridiculous side of it all - then this book might be your favourite book of the year. But if you can't understand why people read OK magazine, then you'd best leave this book on the cutting room floor....more
I have a confession to make: I don't really remember Sleeper, so I read this book with a song by Echobelly running through my head. Sorry Lou.
But I'mI have a confession to make: I don't really remember Sleeper, so I read this book with a song by Echobelly running through my head. Sorry Lou.
But I'm actually paying her a compliment here, if not as a rock star then as a writer. You don't need to be a fan of Sleeper or even of Brit-pop in general to enjoy Wener's honest and humorous account of the way to the top for a gawky suburban girl. And while it deals with the struggles, the boredom and the dislocated insanity of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, much of the book deals with growing up in the 1980s and the influences that created one of the era's more interesting rock stars out of some pretty unpromising adolescent ingredients.
Different For Girls is not so much a narrative as a chronologically arranged collection of essays (some of which have been published in The Times) centred on various incidents in Wener's journey to within reaching distance of the top. Her very un-rock'n'roll failure to spend her brief years of fame spaced out on booze or drugs have left her with a sharp memory of incidents and characters, and her generally ego-free account makes this a likeable and funny book.
After finishing it, I looked up Sleeper's big hit Inbetweener. Now I've heard it, I do remember it. Cracking little tune. Thanks Lou....more
A furious, bilious rant against the smugness of bourgeois 50s and 60s Swiss society and the emotional suffocation that created the author's twisted chA furious, bilious rant against the smugness of bourgeois 50s and 60s Swiss society and the emotional suffocation that created the author's twisted character and led (he insists) to the cancer that he knew was killing him.
The pseudonym Zorn means "anger", and that is the dominant emotion of this spitefully enjoyable book - enjoyable in the sense that he hits his targets with such accuracy.
NB - take care that you buy it in the right language. The original was in German, and reviews sometimes appear under more than one edition. ...more
'31 Songs' isn't as profound as it thinks it is; it's a fun, quick read and rather enjoyable for the most part. But I still don't get why Hornby's mus'31 Songs' isn't as profound as it thinks it is; it's a fun, quick read and rather enjoyable for the most part. But I still don't get why Hornby's musical taste is any more interesting to read about than mine (or yours), apart from the fact that he's a 'name' author. I reckon I could have written something just as interesting, but (probably like Hornby) I've found that my views on music are a great way to scare girls away.
I would have given this 3 stars, but I've just started reading Lester Bangs and realised just how far Hornby falls short. He is desperately trying to find another angle to enable him to keep writing amiable, blokey books, and this one struggles. Sure, he's got a few interesting insights and arguments, but this is so utterly self-regarding that it's hard to care.
True, it's about how music touches us rather than the music itself, but those references need to be familiar. And even though he seems to be listening to the same genres I used to, he's managed to find 21 songs I've never even heard.
He finishes by telling us where to find the songs, but with Bruce Springsteen he smugly and insultingly says, "You know where to get this." Apparently we need guidance for The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, but not 'The Boss'. Maybe he's forgotten he's British, or that some of his readers are.
Or maybe I'm just disappointed that the film of High Fidelity cites the wonderful Capt Beefheart and The 13th Floor Elevators, but Hornby didn't think them worthy to include in his book. I can be petty like that. ...more
This isn't exactly an autobiography, more an account of Callow's life illustrated by pieces he has written for newspapers and magazines (now do you geThis isn't exactly an autobiography, more an account of Callow's life illustrated by pieces he has written for newspapers and magazines (now do you get the joke in the title?). You could say that it's an innovative way to republish his journalism, or you might think it's a lazy way to knock out an autobiography. And you'd be right. Either way.
Callow's prose isn't quite fussy, but there is a sense of correctness in his style and worthiness in his treatment of his subjects. Still, I doubt that he is being dishonest: he loves the theatre and the people in it, and he has some amazing insights. He can be critical, but without sacrificing the affection and admiration he genuinely seems to feel for those he has met and worked with. His writing is good enough that you forgive the formality that makes some pieces - usually those on less interesting subjects - rather hard work.
My Life In Pieces will mostly appeal to theatre lovers, but even they might find it a bit long. Even so, there are some glorious moments and I'm glad to have it on my bookshelf. In the end, it's less of an autobiography and more like a professional memoir. Take that as a criticism or a recommendation, whichever works for you. ...more
Adie's autobiography is an interesting though unsurprising walk through her career, but she keeps her life at arm's length. She leaves you with the imAdie's autobiography is an interesting though unsurprising walk through her career, but she keeps her life at arm's length. She leaves you with the impression of a talented, focused journalist (which we knew already) with a sharp mind and rigorous principles.
So far, so admirable. But Kate as a person? We don't even get close. Relationships? She lets on that she has had some but nothing more. It's almost chilling the way we learn about how she met her real mother at last. The emotions all come out for a page or two; then they are switched off completely and the woman and her family are never mentioned again. Her emotional control almost never slips.
This isn't an autobiography but more a memoir. Adie shows us round her career, but we walk behind her, not beside her. Adie the journalist is revealed in wonderful detail. Kate the woman is as much a stranger when you've finished the book as when you started.
Note: Make sure you look up the word 'diffident' before you start reading. It's Adie's favourite word and she likes to use it. A lot. ...more
This book won't do anything to tarnish Alan Bennett's reputation as one of Britain's best writers, but it is only this reputation that allows him andThis book won't do anything to tarnish Alan Bennett's reputation as one of Britain's best writers, but it is only this reputation that allows him and his publisher to get away with such a lazy offering.
Bennett thought he was dying of cancer, and this was his way of rounding up his best unpublished work. However, at the time of writing this review Alan Bennett is very much alive, so the reason for rushing this book to press in this format no longer applies. You've got time now Alan. Go back and do the job properly.
The writing, of course, is excellent. The autobiography (or, more accurately, the biography of the Bennett/Peel families) that takes up the first third of the book is fascinating, warm, touching, funny and poignant. But it stops rather abruptly, leaving Bennett set for a dull career in higher education. And yet, a few years later, he is on Broadway. How did that happen?
And in a story that is so closely focused on Bennett's family, his brother Gordon is mentioned so fleetingly that he seems like Trotsky to Alan's Stalin. Was there a family falling-out?
Then the book lurches into an interminable section of diaries. Friends who read it all tell me there is some good stuff in there, but there was just too much. Yes, I know Bennett is a master at making the banal fun, but there's a limit. Hire an editor, Alan.
And then there are the lit crits and presentations. They are mostly good, but they miss something when shorn of their contexts. So the pieces on 'The Lady In The Van' or 'The History Boys' don't mean much if you haven't seen the shows. Again, some explanation (or an editor) is required.
The same sloppy approach mars the photos. Several people appear with no explanation of who they are, and they don't appear in the text. Maybe George Fenton and Lyn Wagenknecht are so famous that they don't need any introduction. They certainly don't get any. Yet other characters are described in great detail in the stories, and their appearance is deemed important - so why not show their pictures? Bizarrely, there is a picture of an empty chair in a back garden, labelled simply 'Yorkshire'.
This is not so much one book of untold stories as three incomplete books. Bennett didn't think he would have the time to complete them. Now he has, so he should....more
Collette's last book (I think) is a lyrical reflection on the past, ranging from the recent Nazi occupation to her early days as a writer and her frieCollette's last book (I think) is a lyrical reflection on the past, ranging from the recent Nazi occupation to her early days as a writer and her friends on the Paris literary scene in the early 20th Century. The lyricism is luxurious at times, but it's not a 5-star work because it's deeply personal without being especially revealing. As such, it won't make much sense to any reader who is not familiar with Collette's life and work.
One of my favourite moments – and a good example of the tone of the book – comes in the discussion of old love letters, and the memory of a friend who had destroyed all hers except one, which she knew by heart:
She let her gaze, not devoid of majesty, wander over her well-kept gardens, her overflowing kitchen-gardens, her luminous sheets of water, and recited: "The key will be hanging behind the shutter." "What's next?" "That's all." She paused before adding: "Believe me, it was enough."
'The Evening Star' isn't a perfect necklace, but it has some beautiful pearls. ...more
Shit life so far? You're not doing anything to improve it here, pal. A friend of a friend whose dog goes to the same vet as the chinchilla owned by thShit life so far? You're not doing anything to improve it here, pal. A friend of a friend whose dog goes to the same vet as the chinchilla owned by the ex-girlfriend of someone who once worked at the publisher (oh alright, it was (view spoiler)[NO, I'M NOT BLOODY TELLING YOU (hide spoiler)]) told me that it took a lot of work to get it up to standard. Yeah? God knows what the original manuscript was like.
Okay, let's be positive. For all his deliberate odiousness (although I'm told that's just a front. In real life he's even worse, according to (view spoiler)[Look, I said I'm not telling you! Just read the bloody review, alright? (hide spoiler)]), Boyle is a talented comedian. There are a good few laughing moments here and I got my fair share of chuckles while reading it, so it's definitely worth two stars.
But even fans will be disappointed. Boyle doesn't really know how to write an autobiography and he's not a talented enough writer to break the rules. Rather than narrative, we get a set of anecdotes that are only tenuously linked, if at all. They're a bit like stand-up jokes, except most of them don't have punchlines.
When was he born? I'm guessing about 1970, but there are precious few clues. Why did he and his wife split up? Why did they get together in the first place? What's her name? And the woman who's borne him two children probably has a name too and might even have done something significant in her life (getting christened, for example) other than shagging Frankie Boyle. And look at the pictures: crappy polaroids of people who mostly don't appear in the book and were clearly ripped out of a family album at the last moment.
Towards the end, by which time Boyle is clearly losing interest and so are we, the book degenerates into a series of sketches that weren't good enough for telly. So, why do you think they're good enough for book buyers, Frank? On TV or in a theatre, they're here, gone and forgotten. In a book, they sit on my bookshelf like a WMD dossier (yeah, I read the bit about your political consciousness) or a dead mouse behind the bookshelf, giving off a whiff of putrefaction. For the second edition, put them into appendices: the first labelled "Appendix 1: I gave up booze because it made me write cack like this" and the second: "Appendix 2: I gave up drugs because they made me write cack like this". ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more