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Memoir #1

Moab Is My Washpot

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A number one bestseller in Britain, Stephen Fry's astonishingly frank, funny, wise memoir is the book that his fans everywhere have been waiting for. Since his PBS television debut in the Blackadder series, the American profile of this multitalented writer, actor and comedian has grown steadily, especially in the wake of his title role in the film Wilde , which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and his supporting role in A Civil Action .
Fry has already given readers a taste of his tumultuous adolescence in his autobiographical first novel, The Liar , and now he reveals the equally tumultuous life that inspired it. Sent to boarding school at the age of seven, he survived beatings, misery, love affairs, carnal violation, expulsion, attempted suicide, criminal conviction and imprisonment to emerge, at the age of eighteen, ready to start over in a world in which he had always felt a stranger. One of very few Cambridge University graduates to have been imprisoned prior to his freshman year, Fry is a brilliantly idiosyncratic character who continues to attract controversy, empathy and real devotion.

366 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Stephen Fry

264 books9,849 followers
Stephen John Fry is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing for stage, screen, television and radio he has contributed columns and articles for numerous newspapers and magazines, and has also written four successful novels and a series of memoirs.

See also Mrs. Stephen Fry as a pseudonym of the author.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,057 reviews
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,294 reviews21.7k followers
September 27, 2008
In Foucault’s The History of Sexuality there is a chapter where (and I’m simplifying and summarising, possibly far too much) he compares Eastern and Western ways of sex. Basically in the East people are ‘initiated’ into sex – they are taught sex as one might be taught to dance. No one is expected to just know – it is something you need to learn. In the West we don’t bother with that sort of thing. What we do is turn sex into a science. We feel the need to talk endlessly about sex – Kinsy and Hite as much as Freud. And most of all, we do love to confess. There is a sense in which a good autobiography is really little more than a good confession. How we ever stopped all being Catholic is quite beyond me – but I never have understood religion. In short then, in the East they like to dance, in the West we like to get the sex over as quick as we can so we can all head down to the pub to tell our mates.

In a review of another of Fry’s books I wrote at the start of the week and before I had started reading this one I said, “The thing I like most about Fry’s writing is that it is disarmingly honest.” Now, you would have thought I would have been primed for a good dose of honesty here – this being his autobiography. But no, this book was infinitely more honest than I had a right to expect.

I enjoyed this book so much – so much that it may become a Christmas present for mum, hard to say. This takes his life up until he was about 20. He is the last person I could imagine ever being in gaol. The idea of him being a thief is even harder to reconcile.

There is a constant air of foreboding about this book. There are dark, dark thunder clouds – virtually always near enough to be heard, but for the most part still on the horizon. The storms never prove to be quite as horrible as they are in anticipation, but the anticipation is beautifully crafted.

I’ve long believed that we are only the vague acquaintances of our former selves – sometimes not even that. Fry brings this point out forcefully in a poem he wrote at 15 to his 25 year old self – the sell out he knew his 25 year old self would have to become. We are obsessed with the myth of the continuity of our ‘self’ – Fry plays with this idea in a fascinating way in the latter parts of this book.

There is remarkably little sex. I would have expected more, to be honest, but prefer that there is not more. If you believe all homosexuals are rampant sex manics you might be a bit disappointed with this book. Fry is perhaps the best known and best loved homosexual in Britain – or maybe that is Alan Bennett? – anyway, I’d have thought that this book would do as much as any to help dispel the eternal evil that is homophobia. I loved his ‘explanation’ of how he knew he was gay – that he never fantasised about having sex with women, only ever with men. This is about the only way anyone can tell their sexuality, I’d have thought.

People might find the swearing more challenging than the sex, though. There are four letter words that begin with F and even with C and both used repeatedly. Because of the frequent use of the C word I’m in the curious position of being able to buy this book for my mother, but not for Lorena. What a funny world we live in.

I’m particularly fond of people holding forth – and Fry does this throughout the book, and then undercuts it all nicely with typically British self-deprecation.

This was a good autobiography, at times quite amusing and at other times quite painful – a bit like life itself really.
Profile Image for Lindz.
387 reviews30 followers
November 28, 2015
I am not English
I am not Jewish
I am not Gay
I am not Male
I did not go through an English public school system or prison.

I understood and related to every single beautiful syllable of this beautiful, beautiful memoir.

Stephen Fry's first autobiography was an absolute pleasure from start to finish. He is a true master of words. This 'celebrity tell all' is heavy and pungent with words. Nice sweaty words filled with flavour and colour.

I loved the large rants, tangents, separated by these wonderful skits, anecdotes from his life.

It is everything a good/great memoir should be, open, indulgent, philosophical, passionate, truthful, extravagant, confessional, with a hint of inaccuracy that only personal memory can provide.

This is a treasure of a book.

Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
February 12, 2011
Look, it's no secret to anyone who knows me in the slightest: I love this man. He is my inspiration and my hero, I love his attitude to life, his sense of humour and unflinching ability to stand up and speak out for what he believes in.

He here tells a brutally honest account of his growing up and how he first came to realise that he was gay. He takes the reader through his days in a boarding school where he struggled to fit in and constantly rebelled against, without knowing quite why. He tells of his troubled mind and how it led him to spend time in prison prior to completing his education at Cambridge, he also speaks of his first love and questions his own thoughts and feelings. Fry attempts to analyse his own behaviour, struggling himself to understand why he grew up the way he did when he was treated no differently to his brother.

It is honest, it is funny, poignant and sometimes sad. It is nearly always curious and often confused. But it is never apologetic. Good for you, Stephen.
Profile Image for Tony Johnston.
28 reviews7 followers
September 30, 2021
I would find it tough to fully explain why I dislike this book because to do so would require a long essay and frankly, it doesn't deserve that.

In summary, I am very disappointed. Like a lot of people, I had gotten used to Stephen Fry the "national treasure" and I looked forward to understanding and appreciating a little more of this enigma. The man with millions of Twitter followers.

The problem is, I ended up wishing I hadn't bothered.

On the one hand I found myself disliking the author in a way I hadn't anticipated. This in itself is not a reason to dislike a book although in the case of an autobiography it doesn't help.

Clearly you should judge his character for yourself; his use (and abuse) of privilege, his dishonesty (not just in terms of thieving), his problems with bipolar disorder and his own achievements in TV and other areas are all things that are matters of personal opinion. All I will say is that this book has somewhat spoiled my enjoyment of his fantastic portrayal of the Jeeves character and that is a crime the author himself might understand. I do feel obliged to appreciate anyone who manages to make a half-decent mark in the world and so I'll get over it.

For the book itself, I found the writing variable. Sometimes there are glimpses of good prose and you kid yourself that this man is actually living up to the hype. However, the sum of the parts left me feeling that this is a hollow book written by a hollow man.

It seems to me that he justifies everything by clouding your mind with words. In between the descriptions of his amazingly well appointed schools are passionate apologies, heartfelt splurges of polemic and hints of mental eccentricity.

I think most of this is an act. He dismisses his own intelligence but then spends a lot of effort creating the impression that he is a victim of his own superlative brain and character. This is privileged man who uses words and quotations to create an aura of erudition around himself when on close inspection there is little to justify this view.

"Oh I am not so very bright and even if I were, I wouldn't care" said the dull boy to the judge. Sure.

Clearing away this cloud, I realised that I found his thoughts overblown and poorly presented. About a third of the way in I remembered that I had read "The Liar" and that it was, frankly, trash. Here, underneath the excessive verbiage and constant reference to his extensive literary knowledge, his own thoughts come through as a mishmash of gimcrack (his word) ideas, self-aggrandising and egotistical nonsense covered at appropriate times by the aforementioned passionate apologies.

Finally, it occurred to me that this book tells us a lot about our society. Surface over substance. We see Stephen Fry the genius say a few smart things on TV and ergo he is amazingly talented in the eyes of the people.

We don't look underneath; we tag, we label, I assume.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,308 reviews20 followers
November 12, 2017
As you'd expect from Mr. Fry, this memoir is well-written, witty, charming and brutally honest. Recommended to anyone who is a fan of his work.
Profile Image for Briar Rose.
151 reviews6 followers
January 23, 2011
Reading this book was much like listening to an interesting but self-important guest at a dinner party, who buttonholes you at the hors d'oeuvres and talks to you all night on a wide range of subjects. It's funny and endearing when Fry actually tells stories from his childhood, but he frequently goes off on tangents, which mostly involve long opinionated rants about random subjects, which add nothing to the story. For someone who is such a navel-gazer, he also seems strangely to lack self-awareness -- this might be a deliberate literary ploy, but I was left feeling that he didn't really understand himself or the effect his own experiences have had on him.

Still, I listened to the audiobook version read by Fry himself, and most of the weaknesses of this book are glossed over or forgotten under his skilled performance.

Profile Image for nettebuecherkiste.
514 reviews125 followers
March 22, 2017
Wir kennen Stephen Fry als lustigen, gut gelaunten Allrounder – er ist zugleich Komiker, Schauspieler, Moderator, Autor und Intellektueller. In der ersten seiner Autobiographien erzählt er von seiner Kindheit und Jugend in Englands Internaten. Seine Bipolarität, die sich auch in jungen Jahren schon andeutete, spielt natürlich eine gewisse Rolle. Im Zentrum seiner Erinnerungen an seine 20 ersten Lebensjahre steht jedoch die Identitätsfindung – er erzählt, wie er sich zum ersten Mal verliebte – dass er schwul ist, hatte er zu diesem Zeitpunkt bereits realisiert. Seine erste große Liebe mutet nahezu idealistisch an, es ist eine platonische, zärtliche Liebe zu einem Mitschüler. Stephen Fry gelingt es dabei sehr gut, dem Leser diese Liebe nahezubringen, er stellt auch einige mit Homosexualität verbundene Vorurteile richtig. Ich muss zugeben, dass auch ich hier Wissenslücken aufwies. Stephen Fry ist in diesem Buch vor allem eines: gnadenlos ehrlich und offen (ohne irgendwelche Personen bloßzustellen). Solange Fry von seinen Schulen und seinen Freunden erzählt, liest sich das Buch sehr gut, gelegentlich driftet er allerdings ins Philosophische ab und diese Passagen sind weitaus weniger leicht zu lesen. Er ist eben ein echter Intellektueller – ich habe bei der Lektüre überdurchschnittlich viele Personen, Begriffe und Konzepte bei Wikipedia recherchieren müssen. Die Komplexität des Textes zeigt sich bereits im Titel des Buches: „Moab is My Washpot“, zu Deutsch „Moab ist mein Waschbecken. (Eine Erläuterung der Bedeutung findet sich bei Wikipedia (englische Version.) Wer Stephen Fry kennt, wird sich außerdem vorstellen können: Der Junge hatte es faustdick hinter den Ohren und sorgte für einigen Aufruhr an seinen Schulen. Gleichzeitig zeigt sich jedoch die verletzliche und die depressive Seite seines Gemüts.

Stephen Fry berichtet außerdem völlig offen von seiner Delinquentenzeit – nachdem er von zwei Internaten geflogen war, wurde er, bereits geprägt durch seine Bipolarität, straffällig und verbrachte eine Zeit in einem Gefängnis, bevor er sein Abitur mit fulminantem Ergebnis wiederholte und in Cambridge erfolgreich Englisch studierte.

Manche Referenzen sind für deutsche Leser nicht einfach zu verstehen, da sie sich auf britische Persönlichkeiten beziehen, die dem deutschen Publikum nicht unbedingt bekannt sind.

Frys Buch ist eine lohnende, sympathische Lektüre, wenn man sich nicht vor den schwierigen Passagen und philosophischen Konzepten fürchtet.
Profile Image for Donna.
274 reviews4 followers
September 2, 2012
Sometimes I like to daydream about who I would invite to my ideal dinner party, and Stephen Fry is always at the top of my list. He's funny, erudite, active, and kind. Basically he's my idea of a perfect man, and of course, he's gay as a Christmas tree. Ah well, you can't get everything in life, and I would settle for a conversation with him.

After hearing Fry read this book, his own autobiography covering the first 20 years or so of his life, I feel like I've had that conversation. I feel like I know him, like he's a favorite uncle whose stories I love to hear over and over again.

And what stories! To hear Fry tell it, he was a hellion of the highest order when he was a boy; stealing, lying, and falling in love with beautiful boys. You get the sense that he was always aware of his extremely high intellect and was able to use it on other people from an early age. I couldn't help but smile at his telling of his antics, and gasping incredulously at how daring he could be.

Fry has always been so willing to communicate with the world. He puts out a revealing and entertaining twitter feed, makes excellent documentaries on his own struggles with manic-depressive disorder among many other topics, and is a prolific writer. I'm a great admirer of his, and greatly look forward to reading the next installment in his life story, The Fry Chronicles.
Profile Image for Ruchita.
45 reviews236 followers
January 4, 2012
Whatever your expectations for this book, it will outstrip them. No, that's an understatement. It will take those expectations, multiply them with a factor of 10 or so, take you through 60s England, through the land of schoolboy mischief and lies and heartbreak, show you kindness and compassion along the way, go off on tangents about music and madness and philosophy,and leave you with mad props and respect and love for one Mr. Fry.

For that is the heart of it, of this book and of the writing and all that contained therein: Stephen Fry. Incredibly funny, witty, kind, compassionate, brutally honest and very, very clever.

This is deceptively titled as an autobiography, for it is much, much more than that. Yes, it is a book chronicling the first 20 years of Stephen's life, no doubt - but it is also a book that goes much beyond the life of one schoolboy and into the wild territory of intellectual passions and real world cruelties. Stephen is prone to going off on tangents now and then on anything that tickles his fancy, in the best way possible.

He has more than a way with words, one of the chief reasons why reading this book is such an enjoyable experience. It is a delight to watch Stephen go about anecdotes and essays, conversations and explanations as he weaves his web of verbal dexterity, balances on a trapeze of mental kickbacks and does tricks with words.

Hail Stephen Fry.
Profile Image for Nick Davies.
1,517 reviews40 followers
July 17, 2018
Really very intelligently and frankly written, and with such delightful playful use of language, this was in most ways a very enjoyable read. As it concerned the first twenty years of Fry's life too, it did focus on the period in autobiographies which I often most appreciate - there is often a pleasure in reading about famous folks' childhoods which lessens when they get on to talking about their professional/adult lives and it gets a bit name-droppy. The chosen chronology of this book prevented that concern (though I have in fact read Fry's follow-up to this, and found that very readable and interesting too).

There is a lot about class and about public school. This is fine, it was described with a honest and sensible level of self-awareness and didn't become oversentimental or overly apologetic IMHO. Fry also talks at length about his sexuality, more in terms of his discovery of love as opposed to his discovery of sex, and this was insightful and thought-provoking too. I did find the book did lose some impact in the second half where the author tries to draw literary allegory, to me at a little more length than was ideal, and then the final chapters detailing Fry's teenage delinquency and incarceration did feel slightly rushed in comparison with some of the preceding periods (and they left me a little saddened too) though in truth it was a very impressive and rich memoir.
Profile Image for Sandi.
292 reviews53 followers
October 18, 2011
How can you not love a man, that in the middle of why he kept his crooked nose veers off to discourse on how the monarchy is the crooked nose of Great Britain. Brilliant stuff!

Stephen has such a command of language and the written word that I felt his pains and triumphs. He agonizes over his lack of musical ability yet in the next breath he's soaring with his first tale of love. His love of words. His toys as he calls them. Strengthening my own love of language.

Unlike others, I knew a few things going in so I didn't find a lot of what he relayed quite so shocking. What I did find surprising is just how sincere he is over the pain some of his misadventures had caused others. A lot of biographies of celebrities either celebrate their crimes or try and sweep them under a rug. Stephen faces his head on and I found that profoundly heartening.

I am absurdly glad that I already have The Fry Chronicles so that I don't have to wait to continue Stephen's memoirs.
Profile Image for Rory.
881 reviews30 followers
December 22, 2008
There's no denying that Stephen Fry is absurdly smart, and veddy, veddy funny. I've adored him since he was Jeeves to Hugh Laurie's Wooster. He could annotate a shopping list from 1986 and I'd be enthralled. Of course, his early life was full of much more interesting things--private English schools in the 1970s (a couple of which he was asked to leave), a suicide attempt, early explorations of his homosexuality, earnest struggles to find just where his genius might lie.

I was a tiny bit anguished, though, to realize that this memoir only went through his unlikely acceptance to Cambridge, and then stops. Cambridge is where he did two things I've always been fascinated by: kicked ass on University Challenge, and was best pals with Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson. I really, really hope he writes another memoir.
Profile Image for Emily.
804 reviews118 followers
July 7, 2012
Maybe it's just too British for me, and possibly a bit pleonastic, but most of this book just went right around my head. I wouldn't say over my head because I'm sure I have the capacity to understand what the devil "Cambridge Blue" means and how exactly the British school system is structured, but having very rarely come into contact with it before, I have to say it's just beyond me.
Fry's rambling memoir also devolves into long non-chronological rants upon such things as Authors he has Loved (most of which I'd never heard of) and How Music Feels, which, as even he acknowledges, is impossible to put to paper. His anecdotal tales were much more amusing and diverting than much of what else he's filled his memoir with. It's almost an exercise in recollection therapy, in which he attempts to understand the psychological motivations for much of his youthful behavior. I suppose it is important to suss out your reasons why when you've been given every opportunity, proceed to make a muck of things, and emerge to be wildly successful, but he doesn't even get to the success and fame part. He ends things just after having "sat his Cambridge exams" (whatever that means) and going to apply to be a schoolmaster. I am aware that further memoirs have been written, and I am interested to know what happens next, but I am somewhat apprehensive that additional writing by this comedic performer will also not be as jocular as I had hoped when picking up this volume.
Profile Image for Jody.
792 reviews34 followers
June 29, 2018
I'll preface this with, as many other less-than-enthusiastic reviews of this book have done, by saying that I love Stephen Fry. I adored him in Blackadder. He is easily one of my favourite audiobook narrators. I found his book Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece to be brilliantly entertaining. This memoir however, was, on the whole, almost excruciatingly dull. Memoirs are obviously by nature self-indulgent, but this seemed almost comically so. He seemed to oscillate between false modesty with his "Oh I'm not so dreadfully clever" schtick, and slipping in tales of his brilliance - it just felt disingenuous to me. Snippets of this were hilarious, but sadly these were few and far between. I just didn't find the majority of this (particularly the seemingly pointless details of public schooling) interesting, and to quote/paraphrase a review of this that I read - he has not much to say, but uses a lot of words to say it. Admittedly, he does say this in his memoir, something along the lines that he'll use a hundred words to say something where ten would suffice, but as the reader, I found this painful.

Parts of this were touching, and insightful, however these were few and far between, and unfortunately I came out of this liking him a little less than I did before.
Profile Image for Eve Kay.
875 reviews30 followers
October 11, 2017
I seem to forget over and over again that people are sometimes very bad at writing their own memoirs. It's 'cause we are so subjective as people. Fry puts himself down alot throughout the book, which isn't wrong - he was a real arse, but it gets very repetitive, obvious and numbing to read at some point.
I enjoyed reading about his past and he was very open about everything which is a quality I like in people. His memory is amazing, I don't understand how some people can remember such details from such a young age. Although, I guess if I'd really sit down and start to reminiscense I could conjure up a memory or two I've repressed.
That's about it though. I didn't like how his train of thought got caught off constantly and he went into lengthy sidetracks about things that in themselves were interesting but not in a memoir. Like when a house was built or what kind of sideburns someone had. The amount of detail in this book is way too much for a story that doesn't even cover his whole lifetime up until writing.
This doesn't take away from the fact that I still like the man, I think he's done some excellent acting roles, I like how he speaks and I've seen a documentary by him on gays and found it very informative and interesting. I just think someone else should have written this for him in order for him to get some distance.
Profile Image for Fern Adams.
800 reviews54 followers
February 3, 2022
This book is exactly what you would expect from the wordsmith that is Stephen Fry. Expertly written, filled with facts, stories and plenty of tangents to provide various titbits of information. ‘Moab is My Washpot’ is the first, of currently three, autobiographies. This one mainly focuses on Stephen Fry’s childhood, schooling days and dabble into criminality. While my own life experiences are vastly different I nevertheless found myself relating to quite a lot of this but then I guess in every life there is a lot of similarity due to the universality of being human. This book is therefore quite talented in pointing out these uniting factors while still explaining in detail and humour the sections of life that can be wildly different.

What I really enjoy about all of Stephen Fry’s writing is he is able to make sentence structure itself into something entertaining and at times funny by changing it and creating a second story away from just the words themselves.

I highly recommend the audiobook version narrated by the author as it made it feel a bit like sitting down and listening to a conversation.
87 reviews5 followers
January 12, 2015
Lookit, I'll call it quits around page 300. A big disappointment from a man that I hold a passionate and undying love for. It just never caught me as it was a dry and uneventful retelling of what might be called a remarkable youth. I think it is proof that Fry's spirit is best shown by his actual presence and voice rather than words on a page. Really he is to be experienced rather than studied.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,310 reviews757 followers
July 31, 2021
[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.
"I am not paid," he said, "to teach pigeons."
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.
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.

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.
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.
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.

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.
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.
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.
Profile Image for Anna.
215 reviews68 followers
November 4, 2017
I always liked Stephen Fry. After ”Moab is my washpot” I like him even more.
I like the way he talks about himself. The way he stands for what, and how, he is. The way he talks about his love for words and hate for games. His matter of fact way of talking about being gay, and what I am not likely to forget for a long while - how it was when he fell in love for the first time.

The picture that emerges, is of a boy who realized, that he is smart enough to be able to get out of any situation without getting caught. And that theory, as any scientist very well understands, needed to be tested and challenged, so test and challenge he did. Both on himself and his surrounding: how much more of Stephen Fry can Stephen Fry and his surrounding possibly take?

There were school pranks, small adrenaline-rising cheats, larger - not that harmless incidents slowly accelerating through his school years. To an outsider, a smart and confident young individual, but when you look a little deeper - the most utterly lost and attention craving little boy, that you have ever seen. And at that, willing to gain that attention at any cost. This seeking of challenge and craving for attention has finally led him to a situation that could have costed him everything. Fortunately it didn't, and apparently even taught the unruly youth a lesson, or perhaps simply gave him that portion of attention that was needed to be able to turn everything around.

It is a very personal account of growing up, but it is written by Stephen Fry, so as I felt my heart go out to him, I couldn't ignore the possibility that maybe I am being manipulated. And that, of course I will never know, but it is a very good book, regardless, if the account is honest, or if to exhibit himself to the widest possible audience was just another challenge.
6 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2015
I like Stephen Fry, but this was tedious. He uses a lot of words, but he doesn't have much to say. And he knows it. In the introduction of his second book, he writes:

"If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it. I ought to apologize for that. I ought to go back and prune, pare and extirpate excess growth, but I will not. I like words - strike that, I LOVE words - and while I am fond of the condensed and economical use of them in poetry, in song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profusion and mad scatter of them too. After all, as you will already have noticed, I am the kind of person who writes things like "I shall append a superscribed obelus, thus". If my manner of writing is a self-indulgence that has you grinding your teeth then I am sorry, but I am too old a dog to be taught to bark new tunes."

Something about this actually makes me angry. Apologizing without the willingness to change. The old dog excuse. And the vanity and the arrogance involved in writing not one, but THREE autobiographies. You can tell that he's massively insecure and needs validation (he also says this in the introduction) and I sympathize with that, but yeah... again, the arrogance. He's a great talent and a smart man, but in this case I'm afraid he's also just another overindulged celebrity.

He's a great audiobook narrator, though.
Profile Image for Trin.
1,786 reviews558 followers
May 1, 2008
In which Stephen Fry gives a frank and funny recounting of the first twenty years of his life. Dude’s got balls, man: I could never be this honest about myself or my life. And I’m saying that as someone who has not emerged semi-intact from the truly insane-sounding English public school system. It really is an entirely different world, and Fry makes for a straightforward, yet sensitive, guide. Everything he says about not fitting in just makes me ache, especially his discussion about his inability to sing—and if this were fiction instead of biography, wouldn’t music make the most perfect metaphor? Real life is sometimes so generous with its symbolism.

Fry takes full advantage of this fact when appropriate, and he’s a very good storyteller, wonderfully tangential and honest and reflective. A book like this could be considered navel-gazing, and in a very real way it is the story of the author trying to figure himself out, but the narrative voice is so open, the reader can’t help but want to join in the analysis. If you’ve ever thought, even in passing, that you’d enjoy having a nice meal and then getting quite drunk with someone like Stephen Fry, then you’ll enjoy this very much, I should think.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,941 reviews429 followers
January 8, 2016
[Quick and short review before I re-read and re-review at a later date:

Ahh Frymo how I do indeed love you, though I should probably not call you Frymo. In any case, his biographies are some of the best out there. There's a lot to tell, because he was a wee little shit back in the day and it's important to know this because look where he is now. I feel this might have been, like his other one, full of tangents but that's half the fun, yes?]
Profile Image for Lachlan Smith.
40 reviews4 followers
October 22, 2012
Can you imagine being sent to a boarding school 200 miles from where you lived? Well, Stephen Fry doesn’t have to.

Fry’s autobiography, intriguingly entitled Moab is my Washpot, tells of how he managed to live through beatings, expulsion, imprisonment, probation and suicide attempts – all before he was eighteen! He states in the novel that he promised himself he would never write an autobiography unless he was honest throughout and did not try to make himself out as the good guy. Well, he certainly didn’t paint himself as the good guy in Moab is my Washpot. He is brutally honest about his school and post-school life, but sometimes to almost an intolerable extent. Some passages leave you wishing you had skipped a few paragraphs, because of the thoughts that were once passing through Fry’s head at the time and the actions of older students at his boarding school – namely “Derwent”.
The tone changes in the middle if the book as he goes deeper into his problems (of which there were many) and shows the very, very dark and troublesome childhood of this otherwise seemingly funny and cheery comedian. He often uses false names for people in his book, to save them much embarrassment.
The last third of the book returns to relative sanity, or at least becomes so interesting that it is hard to put the book down. It explains how and why he turned eighteen (came of age) in a rotten diner, many thousands of miles away from his family.
But despite his criminal activities, Fry emerged a year or so later to be accepted into Cambridge University.
Before you read this you have to know that you will never read another autobiography the same way, if ever. Once you have read his brutally frank book, you will realise that a lot of autobiographies (but by no means all) really do paint the author as the “good guy”. Either that or Stephen Fry was very odd, which you have to ask when you read this excerpt. This was from a letter he wrote to himself at the age of fifteen, not be opened until he was twenty-five:

“Well I tell you now that everything I feel now, everything I am now is truer and better than anything I shall ever be. Ever. This is me now, the real me. Every day that I grow away from the me that is writing this now is a betrayal and a defeat”
Profile Image for Heather.
150 reviews25 followers
April 2, 2012
I love Stephen Fry. No matter what one may think of him (and I personally think he's brilliant), the man's command of the English language is wonderful, and he uses it to his full advantage in this memoir of his childhood years. The book is made up of a few large chapters detailing various periods in his early life (his move across schools, the realisation of his sexuality, his first love, his arrest/incarceration) and ends with his acceptance into Cambridge. This book reminded me an awful lot of Roald Dahl's Boy: Tales of Childhood, in both its eloquence and its quintessential Englishness, with both men writing in such a way that you feel like you're truly there, experiencing the depicted events as they occur. The ability to do such a thing is truly rare, and I think the world is therefore lucky that Fry continues to write for us. Overall, a great book about the youth of an extraordinary man, and an excellent precursor to The Fry Chronicles.

Note: Fry is unapologetic for his sexuality (as he rightly should be) and goes into quite graphic detail of his homosexual experimentation as a child/teen, so a few sections of this book might be discomforting to some. That said, they're written quite matter-of-factly (and are not over-sexualised at all), so it shouldn't be a problem for anyone.
Profile Image for Hannah (jellicoereads).
792 reviews152 followers
July 5, 2015
I adore Stephen Fry, ever since I discovered the joy that is QI, and mainlined like 8 seasons in 2 weeks. Ahem. Unfortunately for me, at least, his trademark verbosity is better suited to the audio/visual medium than the written word - while he is very expressive, it can get a little much to try and digest.

However, the book still gives great insight into his humungous genius mind, and it was fairly entertaining/shocking to read about his various self-destrutive exploits as a youth and the rather unique nature of his experiences at boarding school.
Profile Image for Deanne.
1,775 reviews109 followers
May 31, 2013
An insight into Stephen Fry's childhood, enjoyed his comments on himself as a teenager. Not an easy childhood, but not because of his parents or family but seemingly because of things he did, you'll just have to read it.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,408 reviews463 followers
July 8, 2014
Fry is both erudite and funny as hell. His memoir is a delight.
Profile Image for Stef Smulders.
Author 19 books117 followers
March 10, 2019
Did not come very far. Funny at times but way too digressive. Over 400 pages of autobiography about ten years of your life? Come on! One should read it fast, skipping over the pages, which I can only manage in my native language, Dutch, but there is no translation...
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