on 21 December 2012
The Fry Chronicles is Fry's autobiographical account of ten years of his life from age twenty. Ten years in which he studied at Queen's College, Cambridge or rather acted in countless plays and then branched off into comedy particularly after his meeting of Hugh Laurie. It gives an account of his early career and how this swiftly developed.
I have read this book shortly after reading Fry's autobiography of his first twenty years:Moab Is My Washpot. That was a 5+ star read, by comparison this I rate as meriting 4 stars. If I had not read Maob I would have given The Chronicles 5 stars.
Why the difference and diminution? Well, Maob, the best autobiography I have read, contains by quick turn side splitting humour and an onion peeling baring of Fry's inner workings, feelings and motivations. I thought it logical to assume that The Chronicles would be more of the same and this was what I was expecting.
Whilst it is true to say that there are many pages that do carry on this vein, there are also many others that simply recount Fry's early career in terms of how it all began, how he obtained work, what he worked on and who he worked with, etc. Of course this is interesting and indeed necessary because the autobiography has to tell us about how he spent these pivotal ten years of his life, but for me, what set Maob apart was Fry's brave, candid lifting off of his mask and assumed persona to reveal his true self. I found this absolutely fascinating and I admire and appreciate Fry's willingness to do this. It is simply that this book contains less of that.
I also found this book to be less funny.
Having said all of this, there is no question that this is anything but a highly engaging, entertaining, revealing, and at times, amusing read. (Of interest too is as account of how comedy developed in England in the 1980s.) There is much that is laid bare and consequently we do learn an awful lot more about Fry and I would not wish to deter anyone from reading his chronicles.
If you have not read Maob I strongly suggest that you read that first.
on 16 April 2013
Like many other readers, I loved Moab when I first read it about 10 years ago, and I still do re-read it now. Given SF's ability as a writer, both in memoir, articles ('Paperweight') and novels, I was really looking forward to more of the same oblique wit in The Fry Chronicles. Alas! I was disappointed. To put it simply, there are far too many words, and not enough meat. We *know* that SF is friends with all manner of interesting and famous people - and we don't mind; we *know* that he has achieved a great deal, and we don't mind; we know that he must be financially secure - and we don't mind. After all, it is the ambition of many people to have a successful, rewarding, and enjoyable career! We understand that sugar can be addictive, and that it's hard to give up smoking - and we don't mind. What we do mind are the slews of apology and breast-beating. I am quite happy to read about another person's really rather remarkable life, but I don't want to be bashed over the head with self-recrimination about it. Self-indulgent! In short, this book needed a ruthless editor.
on 23 September 2010
I loved this book. I have been eagerly awaiting it ever since I read Moab is my Washpot which was wonderful, but left you wanting more. Well I still want more because this book only takes you up to 1987. Nevertheless it is a fantastic combination of funny stories, brutal honesty about himself, loving descriptions of the people he met along the way, a description of university life that made me nostalgic for my own student days, an interesting account of the rise of alternative comedy, and the wonderful use of language for which is is so rightly admired. It is to his credit, and is a measure of the man, that there is barely a bad word uttered about anyone in this book unlike so many celebrity autobiographies.
In particular his descriptions of his relationship with, and deep love for, the dedicatee of this book - his partner and friend Hugh Laurie - are extremely moving and brought a tear to my eye.
on 9 November 2011
Being a casual fan of Fry's, I picked up the book hoping for some light enjoyable reading and a greater insight into his enigmatic character. The book certainly delivered in the first regard, but on the second I am not so sure. He too often holds back, out of embarrassment and fear of betraying his friends, or his own moral code of strict humility.
For example, Fry goes into great detail (several pages at least) of his former love of tobacco, and pipes in particular- explaining the sensations of tobacco euphoria, how pipes should be properly lit, how he was inspired by his literary heroes to take to smoking, how it seemed to him a sign of sophistication, masculinity etc
And then he just breezes past his decade-spanning relationship with some guy called Kim, who, after reading the book cover to cover, I have discovered was a blond fellow and jolly good at chess. Oh and I think he had an expensive stereo or something. In a couple of paragraphs this huge section of Fry's life is quickly tidied away with seemingly no emotion. Eventually Kim tires of Stephen's self imposed abstinence (again, hardly explained) and starts seeing other men, while still living with Steven. Fry offers no comment on this. I want to know about this situation please! Tell me more! But no, Stephen performs the literary equivalent of coughing nervously and then goes on to talk about the mac he bought that one time.
I suppose it's all part of his appeal, that he doesn't bitch or tattle, or show any real passion. Stiff upper lip and all that, but still ... it would have been nice to see more of the man and less of the gentleman.
Apologies feature heavily. He apologises for being so hard on himself, or apologises for talking about his fame and wealth, or apologises for harking on about his tough childhood. Don't apologise Stephen, if you didn't want to print it, then you shouldn't have. You're not having a casual conversation with us, you're consciously committing words to ink. The first few apologies are kind of sweet and endearing, but by the end of it they rang a little of insincerity. At least to me.
On the whole though, I did enjoy the book. It provides a cozy account of Oxbridge life in the 70's and the theatre and television industry of the 80's, with plenty of Fryian charm and amusing anecdotes. The chief problem is that Fry is too concerned with other people's opinion of himself to really commit to any sustained self examination - other than 'oh aren't I beastly, I shouldn't complain but I do'. And truly personal stories are off limits to strangers, like us. It's a characteristic that makes for a good person, but not a great autobiographer.
on 26 September 2011
On the whole I found this enjoyable and easy to read, particularly the section on student life in Cambridge and work with the Footlights.
HOWEVER... Fry describes the development of his career in detail, and his book is sprinkled with the names of actors, writers, plays and TV programmes. Since I myself did not live in the UK during the eighties, many of these names mean very little to me. No doubt it would all be very fascinating for a reader who had some memory or knowledge of the personalities involved, but not for me. (I did find his descriptions interesting when I actually knew who or what he was talking about, for instance "Blackadder".)
Fry was successful more or less right from the moment he left university, and quickly became extremely wealthy. He used his money in what he himself admits was a trivial way, spending it on expensive houses, cars, clubs, and the latest technology. He spends a great deal of time - too much - explaining how in spite of his success and wealth, he is plagued by a sense of failure, of being a fraud, of not really belonging in the worldly circles in which he appears to move with such ease. No doubt this is perfectly sincere, no doubt it is also worth saying, but I got bored long before he'd finished saying it.
The Kindle formatting is OK on the whole, but it isn't able to cope with a speech from one of his plays and the text of a magazine article. They are not distinguished visually from the surrounding text, which particularly in the case of the speech is confusing, as it takes the reader a minute to realise that this is not actually Fry speaking. Kindle still needs to refine its formatting.
I would give this 3½ stars. Since I have to choose between rounding up and rounding down, I prefer to round down. It doesn't reach 4, as far as I'm concerned.
This is the second volume of Stephen Fry's autobiography, covering the eight years immediately after the first volume (entitled `Moab is my Washpot'). I have not yet read the first volume, which covers Stephen Fry's childhood and teenage years, and am keen to do so as soon as I can.
Stephen Fry writes this book from a position of relative fame: many of us who have followed British comedy will know at least some of his work from the 1980s, while others may only know his more recent work. But who is the man behind the public figure?
Stephen Fry arrived at Cambridge while still on probation from credit card fraud. He quickly discovers that he can sail through examinations without too much effort, befriends other bright young people such as Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, and finds that extra-curricular activities are even more interesting than Shakespearean texts. It seems clear that mostly this was happy period in Stephen Fry's life and the way in which he writes of it is a delight to read. It's almost like listening to him speak.
But, if publicly all seems to be going well, privately: ` I had lived twenty years convinced that my body was the enemy and that all I had going for me was my brain, my quickness of tongue and my blithe facility with language, attributes that can cause people to be as much disliked as admired.'
This questioning of self, combined with a dislike of his appearance and body made it difficult for Stephen Fry to be comfortable. There was a gap between the confident public persona he projected and how he felt:
`The sense of failure, the fear of eternal unhappiness, the insecurity, misery, self-disgust and the awful awareness of underachievement... Are you not prey to all of those things also? I do hope so. I would feel the most conspicuous oddity otherwise.'
It's a wonderful mixture of reminiscence about the 1980s with a sense of foreboding about what the future holds. Stephen Fry is disarmingly honest about his self-doubt, his neediness, his addictions and his drive for fame. If there is a sin in Stephen Fry's world, it would seem to be passive incuriosity:
`The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know.'
And for those of us who are not incurious, this book provides a fascinating insight into a fascinating man. I'm looking forward to the next instalment.
on 3 February 2011
Stephen Fry: The Fry Chronicles
A rambling friendly sort of book; a little like being nuzzled by an eager dog under the table! I enjoyed the background insight into the process of becoming a star, and the pressure to write/perform to timescales and deadlines. A lot of big unusual words that may `obfuscate' a little though that is to be expected. Remarkable insight and empathy into plight of personal and various other issues, sometimes inevitably a little naval-gazing, though what do you expect from a book by Mr Fry, about himself? At times a little shocking too, which is also to be expected from someone who does not shy away from the odd frank and choice word/description, disliking euphemisms, and enjoying the opposite (a word for which I have forgotten though he would no doubt remember).
The context of Cambridge, and all the other performers mentioned adds a lot of interest and I feel perhaps adds spine to a book that has little real direction.
This is his intention no doubt. A quiet interesting chatty, pipe sucking sort of style of writing with, I imagine, little editing. [who would happily choose to edit a person like this?].
I enjoyed its rich language and interesting view of a world seldom seen by us `normals' despite not quite knowing where I had been at the end of it all. A style not often used by `traditional' writers, but perhaps no worse for that. The ending is abrupt, just stopping when no more need be said, and seems contentious as Fry no doubt sometimes enjoyis. Obviously also leaving a telling silence for another future ramble to fill.
[check the page before 'car' chapter. Beautifully put]
[also part about Mask becoming the face earlier on 'Chess....' chapter, a few pages on nicely put too]
on 12 January 2011
This is the witty, self-deprecating second volume of Stephen Fry's memoirs, which makes occasional reference to his first, "Moab is my Washpot". There is no need to read that to make sense of this, though. "The Fry Chronicles" ends somewhat abruptly (as I was reading this on my new Kindle, I didn't realise that the last section of the book was given over to footnotes and an index etc) and I hope the third volume will be published before too long.
If you buy this expecting an exposé of Stephen Fry's showbiz chums, of the bitchy backbiting and unkind "warts and all" ilk of autobiography, you are going to be disappointed. As Stephen points out at the beginning, this is his story, and it is not his remit to tell anyone else's. He overtly admits that he "needs to be liked"; thus he is careful not to say anything deleterious about anyone, unless they are so disguised or vaguely drawn that it is impossible to know to whom he is referring.
So, yes, virtually everyone Stephen talks about is (according to him) a kind and talented person. Having said that, many of the people he refers to were (or still are) his friends. It stands to reason that he will say nice things about the people he likes, surely? What a nasty person he would be if he didn't!
He is cruellest and least forgiving of himself; reading this at times made me feel as if I was in his head, poking about in unhealed wounds, which made me quite uncomfortable. He considers himself a "jack of all trades and master of none" and acknowledges the common public view of his place as a "British institution" with great discomfort. He doesn't believe he is worthy of the admiration and love he so commonly engenders; this is a recurring theme throughout the book, and - were I not a great fan - it may have become a little tiresome. His mental health problems are in the public domain though. The fact that his self-opinions are so openly and frequently stated throughout the book is probably a reflection of the critical analysis to which he constantly subjects himself.
I know from reading this book that Stephen Fry doesn't read his own reviews, but I wish someone else with some impact on him might read this - and could convince him that he is worthy of admiration and love (as are the majority of the human race) and to stop berating himself for his imperfections. I don't think anyone has ever met someone who is truly perfect - and if we did, would we really like them at all? Or would we prefer someone who is as flawed and human as Stephen Fry is - and we are?
One final note: Stephen Fry is a known lover of the English language, with a rich, rare and full vocabulary. This book is written as he speaks - you can hear his mellifluous tones running through it - and you may need access to a dictionary. Some of the words he uses aren't in "Oxford Dictionary of English" or "The New Oxford American Dictionary" so thoughtfully provided with the Kindle, so at times I was left to infer their meaning from their context, as my own dictionary is too large to carry with me...
on 21 October 2011
Having read this, and gained a small understanding of Mr. Fry's issues with self-esteem, I'm slightly worried about only giving this 3 stars. I adore your work Stephen, but you've really got to stop apologising for everything and going off on those long-winded tangents!
Like a couple of other reviewers, I thought some of the writing felt like it was a book written to satisfy publishers than one that he really loved writing. There were some brilliantly lovey moments (particularly whenever Alan Bennett came into the picture) and I did learn things I didn't know about the author - I can't stand musicals, but it was interesting to learn the whole 'Me and My Girl' stuff. I'm also delighted that Ben Elton is held in such high regard by Fry. Terribly unfashionable these days, I know, but the man is a genius.
Overall, a curate's egg. So much name-dropping it got a little tedious ('I was there when Richard Curtis thought of Comic Relief' - yawn, stop trying to be an Oxbridge Forrest Gump) and please, spare us the techno-infatuation.
Would just about recommend (please don't hate me for that, Stephen - you are a very clever and lovely bloke!)
on 8 November 2010
Having read "Moab is my Washpot" several years ago, I had been awaiting the next volume of Fry's autobiography with huge anticipation and high expectations. I certainly wasn't disappointed.
This book does not bring Fry's story up to the present day - another volume is seemingly promised. Instead it shows us the formative years of Fry's career - actor, writer, comedian - beginning at Cambridge an continuing into his early stage and screen productions, leaving the story around the time of "Blackadder II".
Fry is typically honest and self-deprecating - often harshly so, but without ever falling into the trap of self-pity. His affection for his years at Cambridge is very apparent, as is his love and respect for many of those he has worked with - particularly Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson. Fry's feelings of inadequacy when compared to these other talents are particularly fasincating, though I don't doubt that they each felt something similar. There are also wonderful and hilarious anecdotes of the likes of Robbie Coltrane and Miriam Margolyes.
Fry wilfully admits that he will use ten words when one will do, but his prose are so elegant and his love of language so infectious, I doubt many readers will mind. This is certainly a more straight-forward narrative than I remember "Moab" being - "Moab" would often veer off into tangents and Stephen would give us his views on life, the universe and everything, and it is a shame that there isn't a bit more of that in this book. But this is a very minor quibble.
All in all, anyone who read "Moab" should certainly read this, and everyone else should probably read it too. A genuine and honest insight into the life and the mind of an always interesting, entertaining, and thoroughly likeable man.