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 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.
The written or the spoken word? When it comes to Stephen Fry one of the greatest and learned polymaths of our time it is a difficult choice not least of all following from his brilliant readings with that wonderful voice narrating the Harry Potter series and the added attractions of this book on all sorts of I Apps and gadgets. But written word it is and thank you for the prompt delivery from Amazon pre order system for this book takes up where "Moab is my washpot" left off as Fry troops off to University and takes us on a journey up to his initial appearances on television.
I would love to claim credit for the title of this review but it is happily stolen with immense pride from the Daily Telegraph as it speaks volumes about Fry's contribution to our culture (and in any case everything that I thought of seemed to involve a rather obvious Lord Melchett quote -but see below). Fry has built up a reputation since the publication of "Moab" which formally puts him in the category of "national treasure" with a Knighthood so obviously coming down the line that all bets are off, This status has been achieved despite the odd hiccup on the way not least the debacle of Simon Gray's play "The Cell Mates" where Fry essentially did a runner after suffering a nervous breakdown leaving a deeply puzzled and annoyed Rik Mayall and much explaining to do. Yet we can forgive him this not least for his verbal dexterity, his wit, his intellectual depth and breadth, his entering the term "baaaaaaaaaaaaaah" into the English lexicon and his ability to honestly face up to some very personal demons not least his battle with bi polar disorder and his love for Wagner despite being Jewish. And then for good measure add to this the fact that he has been the poster boy for celibacy, he championed New Labour then abandoned it, led the Twitter revolution and also is the ubiquitous voice of British TV advertising. Allegedly it is rumoured that he rests on the seventh day.
"The Fry chronicles" has been well trailed with readings by Fry at the Royal Festival hall and its serialisation in the Sunday Times. It is an excellent and often poignant read but most all its an unadulterated pleasure. At the heart of this book are a number of platonic love stories not least with Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson and especially Hugh Laurie. Fry's admiration of his "partner in crime" is huge and he simply states with genuine affection that "Hugh had music where I had none. He had an ability to be likeably daft and clownish. He moved, tumbled and leapt like an athlete. He had authority, presence and dignity". This warm tribute is encircled by the story of how the two men met in the rarefied atmosphere of Cambridge Footlights and with Thompson being the go between. Similarly he is warm in his tribute to Atkinson and especially his cruel but debonair role in Blackadder alongside the wonderful Queenie, Miranda Richardson. Fry chronicles how the show had struggled in its first series ("The only show that looked like a million dollars but cost a million pounds") to how it lifted off into the stars in its hilarious Elizabethan iteration.
Fry's problems are well exposed in the book. His addition to all kinds of sweets and confectionaries have dogged his dietary problems although the recent loss of six stone in weight led Jeremy Clarkson to ask Fry on Top Gear "where is the rest of you"? Like many great comedians Fry has a darker side and a level of relentless insecurity. He admits at one point in the book that "I spend much of my life imprisoned by a ruthless unreasoning conscience that tortures me and denies me happiness". Those of us lucky enough not to suffer from the depressive illness are sometimes puzzled by what this means particularly for celebrities who on the surface appear to have been blessed with immense talent. Fry's consistent and honest exhortations to make the effects of bi polar disorder more understood and expose its terrible burden is admirable. Granted the book has some faults. Its Stephen Fry for god sake so you must expect an above average level of "luuviedom" and passages glorifying "Actooors". Fry cant help his loquaciousness but in these times of strained vocabulary what's wrong with that? Indeed in the video to accompany the book he happily admits to being a "bit of an old whore, swinging my handbag and offering everyone a good time ducky" and don't we just admire him for it.
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 14 September 2010
Having been a huge fan of "control" for years i look forward with keen anticipation to any literature penned by Stephen Fry.
'Moab is My Washpot' is perhaps the funniest book I've ever read and i was a constant irritation to my Wife whilst reading it as i kept laughing out loud. So 'THE FRY CHRONICLES' had a lot to live up to and i have to say it was worth the wait!!! Whatever background you come from, whatever class you are, Stephen has a great knack of drawing you into his world and basking in the tropical heat that is his wit and wisdom. From the start i was literally coughing up my "Scott's" porridge oats as i read about his cereal addiction through to his pompous pipe-smoking school-teacher anecdotes.
I am sorely tempted to hint at more but i don't want to spoil it for the reader.
If you love Stephen Fry you will "adore" this just as a cat bends itself around catnip. As with Colin Dexter you will need a dictionary to hand as Stephen's grasp of the English language is second to none and leaves us mortals in shame.
If Stephen reads this review i want him to know that a fellow bi-polar sufferer loves him very much and is very much emboldened by his ability to exist and give people soo much joy!
I would do "rudies" with Stephen anytime.
10/10 Didn't expect anything less really.
God bless Stephen Fry . . .
on 13 May 2012
First of all, I enjoyed reading this book. There is no doubt that Stephen's character permeates every page and he has interesting stories to tell. It also includes a wealth of photos. I am a great admirer of Stephen Fry and possibly as a result I found this book a tad disappointing. I'm not saying its a bad book - in many ways its exactly what I would have expected. Yet, somehow, I expected more than this book delivered.
Its very Stephen - as much as I can tell from the public persona. And therein, I suspect, lies the problem.
The introspection, self analysis and doubt that we know is a part of him becomes a little too much when it regularly surfaces in the book, especially where, in his own words "If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it."
Similarly we know that he can be a "bit of a lovey" and he does heap the praise on his nearest and dearest performing chums.
Its yin and yang, I think. I love that Stephen loves words, yet this is at times too wordy. I love that he has a strong sense of loyalty to his friends (a talented and intelligent lot) yet at times it verges on sycophancy. I love that he cares deeply, but do I really want to share the anxst over many pages.
Maybe, to indulge in a little introspection of my own, the problem lies with me. As a 'fan' I expect great things from my heroes. But heroes are people, just like the rest of us, and we all have our strengths and our weaknesses.
I can see why some people would love this book and I can see why some would not. I suspect it comes down to what you think of the author himself. If you like Stephen's work read this book and you will probably forgive any flaws you care to notice; if you don't then you will no doubt find reasons to dislike the book.
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.
on 21 November 2010
Having enjoyed his first autobiography quite a lot, I was looking forward to this continuation. But I really have been disappointed. Firstly, it doesn't cover enough time. The whole thing feels like an exercise in fulfilling a book contract, with passages that seem to ramble about things just for the sake of space. And Fry goes completely overboard this time with all the 'Oh deary me, I'm so successful yet besieged by anxiety and self-hatred. Don't hate me for my success and misery, but I won't blame you if you do' stuff. There will always be this element in any of Fry's autobiographical works - I get that it's part of his charm, but I can't stress enough how OTT it is in this instalment. You do just want him to shut the hell up with all the apologising and get on with it.
What's worse, is that frankly, it's boring. Whereas his first one had moment of real reflection upon his own nature, there really aren't any here. He sidesteps his neurosis entirely. There is no emotional honesty. That's dull - and add the fact that he also doesn't really give us much 'gossip' tidbits about his famous goings-on just adds to the boredom.
Finally, I must also admit to feeling greatly disappointed that he seems to hold Ben Elton in such esteem. He holds enough cache in my mind to make me slightly reconsider my opinion of the man, but not enough to alleviate all of my disappointment.
Summary: All surface, no depth and shockingly dull for such an intrinsically interesting man.
on 7 December 2010
When I saw this book in the bookshop I was delighted, looking forward to a treat of 400-pages of entertaining anecdotes. I was disappointed. It was so verbose I ended up skim-reading most of it. And still feeling a bit short changed. Perhaps his fear of offending anyone is what keeps the text frothy and inconsequential.
It's a shame because with a strong copy editor I think the book could have come out well. He needed someone to help him find a stronger narrative arc - which must be hard to do when writing about your own life. It must be hard to find the emotional distance to see it as a stranger would. And he seriously needs someone to cut-cut-cut and tell him "you're going on a a bit here". Lobbing 100 pages off the book would help the book communicate so much better.
Stephen does like his long lists of inconsequential detail. At first I indulged him wittering about all the types of breakfast cereal there were when he was a boy. He is the loveable Stephen Fry after all.
But a lot of the detail didn't either a) move the story along or b) bring the characters to life. So I was turned off when he was detailing his Cambridge education including exactly what his room contained and what a gyp (scout) is. The long loving details about computers also bored me and felt self-indulgent. Also the use of very long sentences and obscure words. Egregrious is one he relishes rolling around his mouth.
He kept saying that he had to explain things to US readers. Which got me thinking that the book was not written for me as a Brit. Surely there was a way to organise the book so you have background texts at the back, in little codas. Or publish a UK and a US version?
I ended up skipping the refrains about how Stephen lapses into addiction and self-loathing and hates his body.I would rather he told a story to show us this, rather than tell us. Also how awkward he feels even though other people assume he's very privileged and establishment and smug and at ease. This seemed to contradict the loving details about the sumptuousness of his college accommodation and college traditions.
When he was on form, the stories were entertaining and I warmed to him again. I do remember enjoying a story about Stephen Sondheim faxing him in the 1980 as part of a treasure hunt clue. The section about him writing the book for Me and My Girl was genuinely interesting. I didn't know that the "book" - or non-sung dialogue in a musical is the story it all hangs on.
The bits about him meeting and working with Hugh Lawrie were interesting and I would have liked more on this partnership. And the anecdote about him taking leftie alternative comedian Ben Elton to a Tory genetleman's club where they were overheard by Lord Hailsham I think - who was not amused. The photo captions too were amusing.
Worth a read for the highlights if you can borrow it off a friend or wait for it to come out in paperback.
on 19 February 2012
I never quite know what the think of Stephen Fry. I do find him funny, and he clearly has extraordinary talents - encyclopaedic knowledge; the ability to turn his hand to acting, comedy, script-writing, quiz show hosting, providing voice-overs, credit card defrauding, book writing.
But there's something that stops me quite 'buying' him. It might just be pure jealousy, that one man can be just so talented. It might be the feeling that he is a little too good at working his audience, a bit faux-naive self-deprecating. The other possible reason of course is that you can't get away from him. He's everywhere, and I guess this book is the story of how he came to be everywhere.
I did enjoy this book a lot. I'm the same age as Fry and the people and TV programmes he describes in this book are the ones I watched in my early adulthood - Comic Strip, Fry and Laurie, Ben Elton etc. etc. The book is refreshingly honest about these (he likes Ben Elton, a lot; he seems to dislike Robbie Coltrane, a lot), and he does a reasonable job of (a) telling us just how incredibly successful he has been, and (b) being extremely modest about his acheivements. It is genuinely funny - a photo of Fry and his posh pals looking cheerfully smug in black ties ("I know we look like w@nkers, but we weren't, honestly"). It is also a fascinating tale of Fry's struggle with the excesses of his own personality. He's a good writer (he bloody would be, wouldnt he!) and there are some great stories here. And I didn't realise that the young Emma Thompson was SUCH a cutie.
But something is missing for me, which means only three stars. I think it's the fact that, despite Fry's tortured self-awareness, he just doesn't quite understand that life is harder than this for less talented people. His career from Cambridge just happens, effortlessly and with a feeling of inevitability. He's asked to write the screenplay for Me and My Girl in his early 20s; it's a smash hit; appears on TV in a hit comedy revue; stars for his team on University Challenge - it goes on and on. I want to know if he was surprised at all this success, and if not, why not?
But anyway, it is a really enjoyable read, and I'll buy the next instalment, for sure. Ultimately, he is a likable man, even if he is intimidatingly talented, and he usually falls on the right side of most debates. But, as I say, something stops me giving it more than three stars.
Yes, it is jealousy, I think.