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Stuart: A Life Backwards Paperback – 2 Jan 2006
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‘Unique and wonderful.’ Daily Mail
‘Possibly the best biography I have ever read.’ Mark Haddon
‘This is a very rare and haunting book … A great first book.’ Andrew O'Hagan
'Good books like this appear about once every five years. It's been years since I've been so delighted by a book and so surprised by it … When I'd finished I felt bereft, as if I'd lost an old friend.' Zadie Smith
‘Utterly compelling and very funny.’ Daily Telegraph
‘One of the most remarkable and touching biographies I’ve ever read.’ Minette Marin, Sunday Times
'I feel so strongly about this strange, funny, sad book that I hardly know where to begin … My enthusiasm feels almost limitless. A page-turner.' Observer
'Funny and original, a startling book … By the end I was doubled up in tears, but throughout I was often doubled up with laughter. It is dazzling.' Vogue
'A remarkable biography. Unforgettably moving. A gripping read.' Tim Lott, Sunday Times
‘A comedy of errors and horrors deftly handled and with a terrifically droll sense of humour.’ Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard
'With his first book, Alexander Masters … has achieved something remarkable. He has, without patronising, given a voice to the "underclass"; at the same time, without preaching, he shows us the value of even the most damaged of human lives … a powerful book, humane, instructive and entirely original. Sunday Telegraph
This is a major new launch for the paperback edition of the most original, captivating and award-winning memoir of the year. "Stuart, A Life Backwards", is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator ('a middle class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander) and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this is Stuart's confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With humour, compassion (and exasperation) Masters slowly works back through post-office heists, prison riots and the exact day Stuart discovered violence, to unfold the reasons why he changed from a happy-go-lucky little boy into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality, with a fondness for what he called 'little strips of silver' (knives to you and me). Funny, despairing, brilliantly written and full of surprises: this is the most original and moving biography of recent years.See all Product description
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It takes a long time for us to find out that Stuart is the victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his brother and others outside his family. In between times, however, we learn about a child and man whose life has been unrecognisable as life as I know it.
I got this book via the Times+ service otherwise I would probably never have read it.
The first half of the book was slow: I thought once or twice that it was rather mundane and sad that Stuart could be so hard headed, belligerent, stupid, even. A persistent offender, an outsider, someone to be feared and avoided.
Masters catches Stuart's humour and his moments of insight and lucidity: he knows more about what happens in prisons than any of us hence his disdain for do gooders who think they know best.
There is anger in Stuart and violence and sensitivity, all of which come together in a mosaic or kaleidoscope of a personality.
Then we learn about Stuart's muscular dystrophy and that adds a twist: how can he do what he does and have MD. We get insights into his drink and drug habits and wonder even more, how has he survived all of that?
The pace of the story picks up after that and then we start to understand that there is an unknown in this story: Stuart is turning from enigma to victim and we start to appreciate that from the age of 11 Stuart abused himself because someone else abused him. Then someone else. Then someone else.
Masters is the narrator and I think he has done a first rate job of finding Stuart and keeping a dialogue going with him for so long. Without Masters, no book.
I have been shocked by the depths in this book, by the barbarity and the rawness. A lot of people should have read this book now and be using it as a daily reference point of some sort: it seems to me to contain a large number of case studies for anyone working with the homeless, repeat offenders, victims of paedophiles and potential suicides.
I am glad I read this book and it helped me to understand a little more about Cambridge as I lived there for a while and know many of the places named in the book.
I won't give any details of how he died but Stuart's death in his early thirties came as a surprise and I hope his child and the others left behind have found some comfort in this book.
When I read this book, I was fascinated by Stuart's intelligence and insight. It is a deeply moving account of a life that could have had so much potential.
It helped me have a much greater understanding of the lives of the homeless and how people with mental disorders describe their experiences and how not to make snap judgements.
The background to the book is given by the prosecution and jailing of the head and deputy head of a homeless shelter in Cambridge for allowing drug dealing on their premises. The author ran the campaign for their release (achieved after 7 months of emprisonment) and Stuart was clearly a start turn as part of the supporting team.
The author comes across as very likeable and broad-minded, seeing both sides of most questions - though perhaps just a little over inclined to sympathise with Stuart about the iniquities of 'the system' that he has fought against all his life. But then actually he did have plenty to fight against - and the 'system' did owe him a much better shot at his life.
I would very strongly recommend this.
Throw out your preconceptions. You will be moved and surprised by what you read.
Well written and readable, Stuart's idea of telling his life backwards is a good one. What he experienced is horrible, but you won't be horrified. The man makes it all OK.
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