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on 17 March 2017
I have finished this book literally a second ago. Read the last words in this mans life and hardly know what to say. I know I must recommend this book that was recommended to me...but how? It is funny, moving, truthful and disturbing. It tells a tale that strips stereotypes and gives an insight into things we already know but don't want to believe....just read this book you will not regret it.
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on 7 December 2015
I cannot begin to do justice to this book except to say that I admire Alexander Masters the author and Stuart the subject.

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.
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on 13 March 2014
This is a very impressive book - a thought provoking study of a 'chaotic' life that succeeds in explaining what it's like to lead a chaotic life, and also, for Stuart Shorter, the circumstances that led to his chaotic life. A very unusual undertaking then, and the decision to write the book backwards (though it's interspersed with 'forwards' discussions between the author and Stuart about the book and their ongoing friendship) is inspired - it give you first a sense of what Stuart is like, and then gradually reveals what he has been like, and why, in the past.

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.
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on 19 September 2017
I heard about the "Cambridge Two" when I moved from London to Cambridge in 2001. How? Because I was a film extra and asked to take part in the BBC adaptation.
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.
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on 31 July 2013
I have rarely been so affected by a book and reading about the life of Stuart Shorter was a terrifying experience. Terrifying because, written backwards as it is, I knew I was coming closer with every page to some kind of explanation for what happened to Stuart in his early life. Everything followed from that. The man we meet in the first chapter is someone most of us would avoid like the plague. A man habitually used to sleeping in the street, a drug addict, a regular self-harmer, a man who, when cornered by the police, held his small son up at the window and threatened to kill him if they did not leave him alone. A man at the end of his life at the age of 33.

But this is not a book about excuses. Stuart readily admits that many other children are abused as he was and don't turn to crime. Stuart doesn't know why he didn't turn out to be a better man, but he offers no excuses. It takes Alexander Masters an excess of patience for any kind of justification to evolve from their interviews and conversations, and even then Stuart would never accept them as excuses. The details of the reasons for his first escape from home into a children's services Home, are far too raw and shocking to form part of this review. He was abused by paedophiles, including within his own home by his own brother, and at more than one of the so-called refuges he was forced to accept. I would only say, read this book. It will set you back on your heels, and you will find such heartbreak eviscerating, no doubt. It takes some courage for the reader to persist, but the book, for all that, is not without its moments of humour. All the same it left me profoundly affected. Sorrowful, ashamed, heartsick. And amazed, too at the resilience, and the bravery of this astonishing man.
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on 13 October 2012
This is a well written story about no control and immediate gratification in drink, drugs, theft and violence. The subject of the book (Stuart) has a giant lack of respect for other people. He insults them and wrecks their property in the same way that he destroys his own body. The state (his hostile System) is obliged to deal with violent criminals and repeatedly pulls him in to follow the same script in hostals and prisons.

Stuart himself admits that people from his troubled background don't have to turn out this way, so my sympathy is with the old lady in the post office that he threatens and robs + his many other victims including his own infant son that he holds hostage and seriously threatens to kill to avoid arrest. I also sympathise with the kindly author who ends up very confused after spending a few years in this chaos.

The violence and abuse running through generations reminds me of Mikal Gilmore's book "Shot in the Heart: One Family's History in Murder".
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VINE VOICEon 2 July 2013
I'm going to see the play of this book in a few weeks and decided I would like to read the book first.
This is the story of Stuart Shorter, a homeless man that Alexander Masters meets on the streets of Cambridge when working for a homeless shelter. AM becomes fascinated about why Stuart has become what he has and starts to write down the story.
Throughout, this book is full of emotion. Within the first 20 pages I had gasped out loud twice, smiled lots, frowned and laughed out loud.
AM has the ability to make you try to understand Stuart and his situation, whilst acknowledging the impossibility of actually succeeding.
The concept of writing the life story backwards is a great idea (actually coming from Stuart) but it does result in the timeline of his life becoming very chaotic as time jumps forwards and backwards. This makes the book more difficult to follow than it could have been but does serve to reinforce the way Stuart feels about his life.
Unexpectedly, the book ends up being a lot about Alexander and his feels and relationship with Stuart. This is unusual for a biography and I think works well.
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on 14 October 2017
Utterly brilliant. Should be on the curriculum for students in their last year. An eye opener to a section of the "real world" that thankfully the majority don't experience- yet everyone should know that life can spiral out of control. Knowing is understanding; understanding promotes compassion.

Despite the terrible events & circumstances describes, this is not a "misery memoir ". There are some laugh-out-loud moments along the way, and it is beautifully written.
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on 12 June 2016
I loved this book, really well written and very comical in places, kept me amused the whole way through. An interesting insight into the sad and complicated life and world of homeless people, something that can so easily be overlooked. Two completely different people having lived very different lives, it was endearing to see how they supported each other even at the most frustrating times - a fantastic and great friendship.
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on 17 January 2017
This book, written and rewritten under the supervision of Stuart, a chaotic but lovable victim of circumstance, gives an insight into the lives of the homeless community of Cambridge.
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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