Laura Elliott Monroe's Reviews > My Booky Wook

My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
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Feb 24, 12

Read in November, 2010

Pros: Brand has a brilliant, amazing mind & sharp wit.
Cons: Scarily unfunny sections, leaves you with a yukky feeling in your tummy.
The Bottom Line: Not for the faint of heart or individuals unfamiliar with British culture.

I love British comedy, but outside of Eddie Izzard I'm not very well-versed in British stand-up comedy. I knew of Russell Brand and also enjoyed him immensely in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." I knew he was edgy and also a recovered user/alcoholic, and that kind of thing doesn't sway me at all. I was looking forward to a funny memoir and getting to know Brand a little better, especially his rise to fame in England.

What I got was a disturbing tale of Oedipal weirdness, self-harm, animal abuse, and a whole lot of unfunny. After reading this book, I was afraid for Katy Perry's immediate safety.

OK, So He's Not American
Brand has a note in the beginning of the book addressing his "American readers." Kindly, he sets us up for imminent failure by basically telling us that we're not going to understand a bunch of stuff in his book and he was nice enough to provide footnotes. I'm an Anglophile, so I was able to understand nearly every British reference in the book, but I'll admit that there were quite a few challenging items. If you are unfamiliar with any of the following, you may need some sort of a Brit-to-Yank translation tool (or a British significant other):

- Cockney Rhyming Slang (which completely eludes me, no matter how hard I try to wrap my brain around it)
- British television shows
- British children's stories/TV
- British radio hosts
- British pop stars
- British mag rags

Never fear if you don't have a dictionary (living or otherwise) at your disposal - Brand provides copious footnotes at the bottom of many pages. They're written in the style of the book, so thankfully they're not dry and boring and do help.

Memoirs Can Be Tough!
Like biographies, memoirs don't always show the pretty, and I was prepared for that. This, however, was painful. Brand lived with his mother and also has a very unhealthy (in my honest, non-professional opinion) relationship with her. He writes that he "trained ... to practice seduction and manipulation" on her as a very small child, and also suggested they get married when he was young. This rather unhealthy fixation rears its head often throughout the book, and the reader is left going, "Eugh."

Most disturbing was his animal abuse. This literally made me sick to my stomach. No, he doesn't ritually torture/kill pets like a serial-killer-in-training, but it was really upsetting. It's upsetting me to write about it, actually, so moving on...

...to the self-harm. If you are squeamish about reading of people hacking at themselves to the point where they leave scars, this might not be the read for you. It's not overly graphic, but disturbing.

The Mental Illness Factor
His growing-up wasn't terrible or tough at all - he had a doting, loving mother and grew up in a house of women. He got admitted to prestigious schools (even though he messed that up) and his mostly absent dad took him on vacation (albeit Dad purchased him hookers while on this vacation, it wasn't like Brand was abused or discounted in his childhood). However, this book chronicles a VERY damaged young man who makes a complete cock-up of nearly every situation he's put into - especially with authority.

He's filled with so much self-loathing that you just wonder, "Is he bi-polar? Schizoid?" He admits that he was diagnosed with depression as a child in school, and was casually diagnosed by a school counsellor as a manic-depressive. He admits to not going on meds for this because he doesn't feel he needs it, even though he medicated for much of his life with non-prescription illegal drugs. Anyone who's been around a mentally ill friend or family member who refuses to take their meds knows that this is a recipe for disaster ... and therefore a tough read.

But Is It ALL Bad?
Oddly, there were two "heavy" areas that weren't disturbing or upsetting to me - his childhood molestation (an incident by a tutor) and his prolific, erm, "use" of women sexually. The molestation was written in such a way that it wasn't squicky-gross or making you want to lock your children away from society. Sure, it's a horrible event, but he wrote about it in a very straight-up, digestible way (which is MUCH appreciated).

The book opens with him going to rehab for sexual addiction, but while the womanizing was egregious (he totally parties like a rock star) I didn't find it degrading to women. Sure, there's some manipulation and two-timing, but overall you feel as if these women are consenting adults and not victims of a Russell Brand Sexual Reign of Terror. Whether or not that was actually the case, we'll never know, but he does not come across as misogynistic at all ... just someone with a bad case of the sexies. He repeatedly harps on his love of the female body and all of its intricacies.

Oh, the Drug Use (and Abuse)
This is really harrowing. As someone who's never done drugs but has fallen off a few barstools in her time (I'm looking at you, Guinness, right now), it was difficult for me to stomach the heroin-induced antics that Brand writes about. It really seems like a complete train wreck. I have no idea how in Hades this man actually kept a job, or even actually showed up for anything, ever (especially not on time). I was completely gobsmacked that he could use as many drugs for as long as he did and not be arrested/prosecuted, get a bad batch from a shady dealer and overdose/have to be hospitalized, OR kill someone. I'm still incredulous that he actually managed to function.

And bless his friends and assistants, because they were the ones who kept him from killing himself (or worse, other people). They are the true heroes of this book. Whatever they were paid, it is certainly not even close to what they deserve for putting up with Brand and his shenanigans.

One Thing That Eludes Me
I can't figure out why he was in sex rehab. The book opens with him getting stuck in an American rehab facility and he eventually gets out. But the book doesn't really show or tell us why he's a SEX addict. He's a DRUG addict, and also a drunk. He never acts like his sexual behavior is a problem at all ... only when it's paired with the drink/drugs. Sure, he needs to get that creepy Oedipal thing evaluated by a therapist before he can have a real relationship with a woman, but outside from having an addictive personality I didn't see the sex as a problem. It could be because I'm very sex-positive in my thinking, and I also know that bi-polar people can be hypersexual as part of the disorder, so I'm thinking it's more of a chemical issue than an addiction. Again, I'm not a professional (although I sure seem to be able to play one on the Internet).

OK, So Was There ANYTHING Redeeming in This Book(y Wook)?
Yes. Brand can WRITE. He is ridiculously smart, and he is also apparently very well-read. While the pacing of this book is a bit disjointed (well, it IS a memoir his drug use/abuse) and the subject matter is definitely cringe-worthy, this man is brilliant. Even though some paragraphs were terribly off-putting, he was able to convey his memories and his life in an enjoyable way that elicited quite a few chuckles.

Yes, it's a train wreck of a life, but Brand's quick wit makes the writing - not the subject matter - enjoyable a lot of the time.

Although it is well-written, I don't recommend it because of the subject matter. I also don't recommend it for the casual Brand fan, anyone who suffers from triggers due to sexual abuse, or anyone who has had a bipolar/depressive/self-harming friend/family member/lover.
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