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3.8 out of 5 stars59
3.8 out of 5 stars
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I was inspired to read this book after reading a very funny interview between Lynn Barber and a famous singer, and in preparation for watching the film 'An Education' on DVD. I've heard the film's really good - but I have to say I didn't enjoy this memoir at all. Barber came across for the most part (apart from the searing final chapter about her husband David's illness, where it's impossible not to pity and admire her) as superficial, self-satisfied and often rather callous. The first chapter is a 'misery memoir' in which she complains endlessly about her working class, work-ethic-obsessed father and her genteel mother, who made her have elocution lessons. The incident that inspired the film 'An Education' forms the basis of the second chapter - Barber was accosted at the age of 16 by a conman called Simon, who started taking her out for glamorous dates to the opera, for weekends abroad or to nightclubs with his friend the slum landlord Peter (Perec Rachmann), and who her parents wanted her to marry - until he was revealed to be a criminal and a bigamist. While Barber was clearly caught in a appalling situation here, her behaviour to Simon (more emotionally committed to the relationship than she) comes across at times as rather manipulative. The remainder of the book covers the rest of Barber's life at breakneck speed - her wild glamorous years at Oxford, her years working for men's magazine 'Penthouse', her experiences as a 'babybooming wife and mother, her journalistic career at the Sunday Express, Sunday Independent, Vanity Fair and the Observer, and then slows down abruptly for the final chapter, describing how her husband David Cardiff was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease. There is no real conclusion to the memoir which fizzles out in a rather confusing postscript about how one never really knows other people. For the most part, Barber came across to me rather like the sort of glamorous, annoying, loudmouthed student who boasts about how little work they do, and how many men they've dated. She boasts endlessly about how many men she slept with at Oxford, about writing a sex book that sold in multiple countries though 'I haven't a scholarly bone in my body', and about being one of the first Oxford-educated women to work at a men's magazine. In describing her career she namedrops like crazy, and tries to make it seem as if she did very little work. The Sunday Express, for example, was 'heaven' because journalists claimed huge amounts of expenses, went out for very long boozy lunches and 'never did any work until 4pm'. As a mother of small children, she gloats about the fact that she didn't do 'boring' creative play but instead plonked her children and their friends in front of the television for hours. For a woman who's done some very interesting interviews and had a hugely successful career, she talks oddly little about the people she interviewed and what about her work she enjoyed, so we get little idea of what she actually did. At the end of the penultimate chapter, where she claims that 'I love interviewing artists because I feel I'm doing something useful', it turns out that what she actually means is not talking to artists seriously about their work, or discovering talented artists who have had insufficient media attention (and there's more and more of them these days) but 'hanging out' with the leaders of the BritArt movement such as Sarah Lucas, Damian Hirst or Tracey Emin, who 'love to play' with journalists and provide perks such as trips to the Venice Biennale. I know from reading Barber's journalism that she's a lot more intelligent than she appears in this book, but she simply comes across here as a product of a fame-obsessed culture. The final chapter of the book is, admittedly, almost unbearingly moving at times, but would have had even more tragic weight and fitted in better with the rest of the book if Barber had written more about her family life before her husband's illness. I also felt uncomfortable with Barber's vitriolic writing about her parents throughout the book (when they were still alive) and her ungenerous remarks about former colleagues. All in all, while I admire Barber as a journalist in many ways, I didn't like the way she came across in this memoir at all - and I think she probably made herself seem a lot more shallow than she actually is. Perhaps I'll have more fun reading her journalism than her life-writing.
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on 9 November 2011
This is a book that should come with a couple of warnings.
Firstly, be aware that the story that inspired the recent film An Education [DVD] [2009] only takes up one short chapter. Nick Hornby, Oscar-nominated for the screenplay, padded this one episode out hugely and made a lot of it up. So if you enjoyed the film, you won't necessarily enjoy this memoir of Lynn Barber's life as a journalist.
And secondly, if you're a struggling writer trying to find work in today's cutthtroat media world, don't read this hoping to be inspired, or to pick up a few helpful tips. Because all the stories of how she blithely sailed into a series of highly enviable jobs during yet another liquid lunch at the Groucho Club, or via an old Etonian chum of her husband, or after a chance phone call from a friend of a friend of someone she was at Oxford with, won't do anything other than make you feel angry, or hopelessly defeatist, and possibly both.
She's been very lucky and had a great career writing for and about other people, but this hasn't necessarily made her own story particularly interesting. There are some mildly amusing anecdotes about her time at Penthouse magazine and on Fleet Street, and there's some minor name dropping, but it's hardly fascinating, and it's all stuff that dates very fast.
All credit to her for being brutally honest about her selfishness and impatience - she despised her parents, she begrudged the time she spent bringing up her daughters, and she is mercilessly detached about her husband's death - but it makes her very difficult to understand, let alone like. If you're writing about people and events that aren't of much interest outside your own circle, I think you have to inject a bit more heart and humour into your story than this. Otherwise, why should I care?
Luckily, it only takes a couple of hours to read this book - that's about as long as I wanted to stay with Lynn Barber.
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on 22 December 2010
Having seen the film, and having read other reviews, I was expecting a lot from this book, but it didnt deliver.
The whole thing seemed very superficial, I didnt find Lynne Barber a sympathetic person, and became very angry at the way everything was told totally from her perspective, with no thought about the feelings of other people, especially her parents, who seemed to get a raw deal.
I was also upset at her attitude (as shown in the book) to her husbands illness.
Not a book that I'll re-read
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on 18 February 2013
Having previously seen and enjoyed the film of 'An Education', I was keen to read about the rest of Lynn Barber's life. The film is based on just one chapter of the book but her teenage affair with Simon has affected Barber throughout her life.
The author's concise, journalistic style means she manages to tell the reader a lot about herself in a succinct book easily read in a couple of sittings. Besides her early life, we hear about her marriage, motherhood and her long, varied writing career. Beginning her working life at Penthouse, where she wrote a sex manual, Barber also acknowledges the inherent chauvinism and patriarchy of Fleet Street.
She's a clever woman who's had an interesting life and she presents herself as she is. She does criticise others, in particular her parents, but she admits her own failings - she knows she could have given her husband more during his final illness.
A good book if you have an interest in journalism or if you just like to read about women's lives.
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I wanted to read this memoir before seeing the film of the same name (which is actually only based on a small section of the book). It's a good read, if not particularly meaty, but actually I did find it a good length for a memoir. Just enough to keep the reader's interest, but not too detailed that it becomes tedious.

The chapter about Barber's relationship with the older man is great, and I can see why that inspired the film. Very moving was the chapter about losing her husband. But let's not forget her days at Penthouse - she's certainly had a rich and varied life to date, and I can see why she made a career from writing, as her style is pithy and witty.

I would recommend this book if you like a fairly light memoir (and I'd also recommend the film).
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on 12 August 2009
I bought this book on the basis of some of the "good" reviews here - not a good idea if you are thinking of doing the same.

Lynn rattles through her life without really telling very much at all, the only chapter which doesn't read as though she is writing for the sake of it, is the chapter about her husband's demise (which is written with feeling and care), the rest of the book is a series of 'I did such and such', 'I went to so and so' without elaborating, also her persistence in telling the reader how intelligent and pretty she was/is is rather tiresome. She also name drops quite a lot but with little effect as no details are given.

The synopsis on the reverse of the book talks mainly of the lover she had from being a sixteen year old and for a couple of years thereafter and how he conned her and her parents, but by her own admission, she was more taken by his friends than she was actually by him, so why devote so much to him - well, because nothing much else of note is in the book, despite her age and varied life.

I am surprised that this is "soon to be the subject of a major film scripted by Nick Hornby" since if it anything like this book, it will have little substance and it will certainly require a lot of poetic licence to make it of interest.
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on 15 September 2009
This is a very thin autobiography that seems to leave out more than it includes. There are numerous tantalising glimpses of potentially revealing details, which are then never explored. We never find out why Barber's mother is a "beta-minus brain", or what Jonathan and Maria Aitken were really like at Oxford. There is tons of name-dropping, but little in the way of telling tales, which probably ensures that Barber keeps her friends, but disappoints her readers. Those who enjoy reading about Oxbridge bluestockings will find Barber's experiences as an undergraduate are only sketchily recalled, and her recollections of her Penthouse and Fleet Street journalism days aren't a patch on Anne Robinson's.

Yet the book is written in Barber's typically sparkling, tell-it-like-it-is style, and I found it very entertaining. Like Zoe Heller on the cover, and India Knight above, I just couldn't put it down once started, and stayed up into the early hours to finish it, having meant to just read a couple of chapters at bedtime. There are plenty of amusing episodes that made me laugh, and the chapter about her husband's early death (particularly following the chapter relating how they fell in love) made me quite tearful.

'An Education' isn't quite up to the standard set by Lorna Sage's 'Bad Blood', but if you loved the latter, I am sure you will enjoy this book.
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on 11 March 2010
I loved the movie An Education, so after walking out of the cinema I set out to buy the book and find out how faithful the adaptation was. That's when I realised, when the movie says 'loosely based on' it really means it. The entire plot of the movie is contained within a few pages of Lynn Barber's memoirs, with many aspects of the film being exaggerated or even made up. A good 3/4 is not even referred to.
That aside, it is still quite a good book.
It is by no means perfect; there are a few parts in the book that do stretch a little too long, and even the splashes of sarcastic humour cannot fully take away the fact that at times, it is boring. Sometimes Barber's name-dropping does get a little too extreme, and her opinion of herself can sometimes be irritating. Aside from this, the majority of the memoir is an enjoyable read. At times perfectly light-hearted, at times serious (particularly in the chapter about her husband illness), occasionally very moving, often laugh out loud funny, and as always, extremely honest. It is a true memoir of one who 'had all the answers but didn't know the questions'.
To those who will be expecting events like in the movie, you will probably be disappointed. However, if you would like to read about what happens when 'Jenny' grows up, a book to pick up where the movie left off, I suggest you buy.
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I have yet to see the film of this book, which is supposed to be wonderful. When I saw the book I was determined to read it, and really could not put it down. It is only a short volume, and I believe only a fragment of the book makes up the subject matter of the film, but it is nevertheless compelling at every turn. I finished it within twenty four hours of picking it up. Barber writes about her life with clarity, a refreshing lack of vanity and humour. I particularly loved the sections of the book about her work at Penthouse and found the last section, dealing with the illness and death of her husband profoundly moving. Barber is articulate, thoughtful and incisive. Her life has been interesting and is more than worthy of a volume four times the size of this one. I hope, one day, she writes more.
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on 6 December 2009
Some reviewers have described Lynn Barber's 'An Education' as cool and unrevealing, but I have to say it didn't seem that way to me at all. On the contrary, 'An Education' is refreshingly concise, direct and, yes, cool - but in a good way. A beautifully written, crisp memoir, covering in - oh joy! - fewer than 200 pages the life to date that has made her the great writer and interviewer that she is.

The book offers a number of clues to how she came to lead a crowded Fleet Street field - not only is she completely open and frank, with a directness that unfairly earned her the soubriquet 'Demon Barber' but why anyone should want to be otherwise baffles her (the hilarious encounter with Alan Whicker, who tries, and fails, to shame her with her previous life in pornography being a case in point).

Word of warning, though, to anyone who comes to this expecting the book of the film - that episode, though clearly key in her developing outlook on life, takes up less than a quarter of the book. Don't let it put you off though - her adventures at the nascent Penthouse and Independent (and the divide between those two august organs gives a clue to her non-judgemental openness) are equally engaging, warm, funny and, yes, human.

A terrific read and entirely of a piece with her other writing. If you like Lynn Barber at all, you'll love this.
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