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366 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1997
[Abbot] once, in the middle of a Latin lesson, fell silent in the middle of some talk about Horace. We all looked up from our slumbers and saw that he was staring at a pigeon that had landed on an open windowsill. For three minutes he stared at the pigeon, saying nothing. We began to look at each other and wonder what was up. At last the pigeon flapped its wings and flew away. Abbott turned to the form.Stephen Fry is one of those rare white men of particular celebrity repute whom I can readily both recall the name of and identify in the films that they've participated in. It was a scene in the Portman version of V for Vendetta, one of the earliest encounters I had with a queerdom that knew itself for what it was and spoke it loud and proud, that made him real for me, whatever that means; since then, it's a tad eerie if one thinks about it too long how his journeys with a love for literature, sexuality, and mental health establish a sort of path for my own footsteps, although my brain tends to make me less Bonnie and Clyde about my moribundities than his does. Now, this is often a mild half complaint, half telling myself off point that I bring up in reviews of less than stellarly rated works, but in this case, I have little doubt that I put off this book for far too long. I added it in the summer of the year that I dropped out of university, and eight years and a couple of degrees and work references later, I'm less sympathetic to the events that are both somewhat worse and somewhat better than my own, as well as less open to taking all the references to largely WASP males as gospel to add to the TBR and subsequently integrate into a construction of a personality. That hasn't stopped me from being tempted by the sequel, especially when considering the borderline enamorment I had for a certain medical TV show with its certain irascible disabled main character back in the pre-university days, but I imagine the references will only pile on the stronger without as much concrete lived experiences/contexts/history as this initial autobiography contains to counterbalance, so it might be best to leave it for the unknown future to figure out.
"I am not paid," he said, "to teach pigeons."
Marilyn won the heart of my brother, Roger, on a walking tour in the Isle of Wight one summer holiday: he returned with a glass lighthouse filled with layers of different coloured sand from Ryde and a much larger Adam's apple than he had left with. The symbolism of the lighthouse is the kind of hackneyed detail that only real life has the impertinence to throw up.As extraordinary as Fry is as a composite whole, his life starts out in a manner very familiar to any who have sought to gain a handhold in the English hegemony that is modern day literature, whether it be through long drawn out biographies/memoirs/confessions or endless fictions that, when viewed as a whole, are really only differentiable on the most minute of bases. That is because Fry's bildungsroman largely alternates between a rambling overblown barely nuclear family form of a house with produce in the garden and the Anglo definition of "nature" for miles around and the kind of boarding school with its houses and its O-levels and its surnames that will be, despite one's best efforts, nigglingly familiar to who has come into the slightest contact with this one particular British franchise that took the world by storm in the early 21st c. and is still, despite its creator's increasingly hateful behavior, rather virulently popular. This made it rather easy to get into the work, enough that I was able to take the somewhat chaotic organization and increasing focus on sexuality among veritable teenagers in stride as an indication of the author's willingness to go above and beyond in his recollections, fitting things where they needed to and omitting only when the information would drag someone other than himself into the matter. It was admittedly rather surreal to compare and contrast young Fry's behavior with his home life, educational resources, and general preparation for adulthood, but judge not lest ye be judged and all that (although my own country would be in a much better position if every incarcerated eighteen-year-old had the post-prison means of social advancement that Fry had). Brief moments of delightful humor and shared sympathy for love of certain authors/writers/poets, but I have a feeling that I'd have to read the sequel to get a true appreciation for all that, and I've already detailed my misgivings about that particular endeavor above.
It was only when I realised that the kind of intelligence that wants to get into Mensa, succeeds in getting into Mensa and then runs Mensa and the kind of intelligence that I thought worth possessing were so astronomically distant from each other that the icing fell off the cake with a great squelch.
Nowadays a lot of what was wrong with me would no doubt be ascribed to Attention Deficit Disorder, tartrazine food colouring, dairy produce and air pollution. A few hundred years earlier it would have been demons, still the best analogy I think, but not much help when it comes to a cure.So, a work that certainly doesn't apologize for itself, and had I read it during the beginning of my third decade instead of on the cusp of my fourth, it may have really done me some good. That doesn't prevent Stephen Fry's sheer continued existence as a queer Jewish artist fighting the good fight in the realm of mental health from continually doing me good even without my actively engaging with his many creative endeavors, and I truly hope that his marriage is doing him the kind of good needed to combat that kind of everyday horseshit that is suicidal ideation. While I may or may not continue my reading of his autobiography material, his take on the Greek pantheon looks like it could prove a delight, taking into account both how well my encounter with Ovid's take on the matter ended up turning out and the fact that Fry's own penchant for foul language is so similar to my own. I'm in no hurry to commit one way or another, so for now, this work that has rested on my shelf for the last eight years is finally off, and I get to enjoy the rare moment of appreciating a writer, if not so much their writing, who is actually still alive. I may have missed the train in terms of encountering the right work at the right time, but I can think of at least one type of young person who could use a work such as this, and the times being what they are, there's more of a chance than ever that they'll come across it.
Taking an aggressively defiant stance on qualities in myself that others might judge to be weaknesses became one of my most distinctive character traits. Still is, I suppose.
John Keats may not seem as sophisticated a paperback for the hip pocket of a self-conscious student as Beckett, Bellow, or Musil, for example, but his greatness is not something that can be diminished by the stupidity of the newly adult. You can't outgrow Keats any more than you can outgrow nitrogen.