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 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.
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!)
Stephen Fry's first volume of autobiography, "Moab Is My Washpot", was a superb book, and I was really looking forward to reading this. I'm a huge admirer of Stephen Fry but, "Moab" aside, have never taken to his books for some reason. Anyway, I launched myself into this one expecting joys.
Sadly the book is overlong and frankly rather dull. Split into three broad sections it continues his story from his university years until the success of the musical "Me And My Girl" and the beginnings of his TV career, ending just before the recording of the pilot for "A Bit Of Fry and Laurie". The first section is rather odd, seemingly an attempt to cover things he'd missed from "Moab", such as a lengthy segment on his childhood obsession with Sugar Puffs and all things sweet, but he makes it clear that he won't be covering stories he's previously detailed in the previous book, and he veers wildly through the years, skipping right up to 2007 or so. This whole section - all 64 pages of it - is frankly a mess and I found it rather a chore to read, partially because he took his wordiness to ludicrous extremes several times, particularly in the following passage. Fry explains that whenever he mentions something which was covered in "Moab" he will insert a dagger symbol - it looks like a crucifix - in the text, but does he say it in such a simple way? No. I quote: "Where I mention events from my past that I covered there I shall append a superscribed obelus, thus."
The second section covered his university years, focusing primarily on his time with the Footlights company, and although it was an improvement on the opening there was rather a lot of "luvviness" to be found as he name-drops relentlessly and tells us many times how wonderful the likes of Emma Thompson are. Finally, the third section sees Fry leave university and begin work on a number of failed TV shows until he finally finds success with the book for "Me And My Girl". Of the three sections I found this one the most interesting.
As I mentioned at the start I found the book overlong. It's a thick hardback - 425 pages in total - but it could have been cut by at least a hundred, maybe more. The print is large but it seems Fry was working to a specific word target, and so the text is padded out with numerous lists, such as sweets he remembered from childhood, gentlemens' clubs in London, street names in New York and so on. Each of these struck me as being padding, rather than important.
The book ends suddenly, just after the opening night of "Me And My Girl" in New York, and he promises that there will be a third volume (he also hints earlier on that he may write a book on his love of technology - and yes, he says how wonderful Apple are a few times in the book) but I'm afraid I won't be buying it unless it is a marked improvement on this.
Sorry, Stephen. I still love your work on TV, but I was disappointed by this book.
on 5 September 2011
In comparison with Moab I found this second installment rather disappointing on a number of levels. It has a rather hurried feel to it, certain anecdotes from Moab are repeated for no apparent reason (was his editor too lazy or perhaps overawed to point this out?) and it is in my view nothing like as funny or well-written. Perhaps Stephen simply did not enjoy writing it as much. He is of course not the same person as he was at the time of writing Moab all those years ago. I mean to say that if Moab had been written later and Chronicles earlier, perhaps both books would have turned out quite differently.
Moab is in my opinion a work of comic genius and extremely moving; Chronicles is more mundane and nothing like as personal. In fact it is almost defiantly impersonal. Let us just say it is a different sort of book.
Nevertheless, if you are a Fry fan you will enjoy *and learn* from this book! For that reason I still recommend it, but I am now glad that I did not splash out on the hardback version last Christmas....
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.
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 17 October 2011
I enjoyed this autobiography and although it is quite thick, I got through it pretty quickly. I've always liked Fry due to his openness about his past issues - particularly those concerning his adolescence and so 'Moab is My Washpot' would be a better read to learn more about that. However, this book documents his 'adulthood' and I found it very interesting. I wouldn't normally enjoy reading about someone's experiences going through university or reading about an acting career, but thanks to Fry's writing, it was a very enjoyable read. Fry's sense of humour is fantastic and you can sense this and his personality through his writing - there is no mistaking who is writing when you read through it - I simply adore his writing and the way he puts things. I found myself laughing out loud at parts and reading as though I was a 'friend' of Fry. A really good read.
Firstly I must say that my review is of the hardback which I have had for several months despite Amazon saying it's not yet available. Go figure that one out.
Simply I have to say I felt this book was lacking in something; depth? constancy? reason for writing?
I'm truly not sure why but the book never held my attention for more than a few pages at a time after which I had to go off and read or do something else.
I am probably doing Stephen Fry a great dis-service here as I find his television work most enjoyable and perhaps I just expected a lot more than was fair but for me it turned out not to be my type of book for a long and continuous read.