Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review: More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

Book cover of More Fool Me by Stephen Fry
I received a copy of More Fool Me when I attended a promotional talk by Stephen Fry in early September. I've read a few of his novels, (Making History, most notably) but this is my first of his autobiographies, despite owning both the two previos works, Moab Is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. The problem is, it's very hard to review a book of which the author has stood in front of you, pointed out the flaws and swiftly defended against every single one of them.

Plot summary: In his early thirties, Stephen Fry - writer, comedian, star of stage and screen - had, as they say, 'made it'. Much loved in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, author of a critically acclaimed and bestselling first novel, The Liar, with a glamorous and glittering cast of friends, he had more work than was perhaps good for him. What could possibly go wrong?

Then, as the 80s drew to a close, he discovered a most enjoyable way to burn the candle at both ends, and took to excess like a duck to breadcrumbs. Writing and recording by day, and haunting a never ending series of celebrity parties, drinking dens, and poker games by night, in a ludicrous and impressive act of bravado, he fooled all those except the very closest to him, some of whom were most enjoyably engaged in the same dance.

He was - to all intents and purposes - a high functioning addict. Blazing brightly and partying wildly as the 80s turned to the 90s, AIDS became an epidemic and politics turned really nasty, he was so busy, so distracted by the high life, that he could hardly see the inevitable, headlong tumble that must surely follow . . .

So, yes, he has written three biographies and he can't possibly have that much to say about himself. Yes, it is setting a bad example to write about drugs and their influence. Yes, he has written it completely for himself and not for anybody else. So, uh... there's not much to say, really. Thanks Stephen.

Except that it starts with 67 pages of recapping the other two books. He keeps almost laughing at himself for doing it, but is it really necessary? If you like Stephen Fry enough to buy this book, you've probably either read them already or know enough to be able to pick up the gist if he just started talking. It's weird - thorough but vague at the same time. It's a basically just a list of everything he's done to date, but not a quick or a lively one.

It was a huge effort not to skim as I just couldn't click with the bland style of the recap. Maybe he was just trying to whip through it in order to get to 'the good stuff,' but then again 67 pages is hardly whipping anything. He says 'Oh, I'd just skip this if I were you,' but yes. You actually should.

When the actual book started, I did end up getting into it. It's basically just a collection of anecdotes, loosely crammed under a 'drugs' heading (but not really). The thing is, I then ended up getting back out of it again. After about two thirds of the way through, it just turns into Stephen Fry's diary from 1993, which he swears is genuine... and then it ends. That's it.

It's weird. I just don't understand the point. His diary is just a list of what he did that day, how much he wrote and who he was with. Frankly, it's boring. I don't understand who half the people are or what the abbreviations mean... why write half a book and then shove a few months of your diary in!?

I was expecting a slightly rambling, casual look at Stephen Fry's drug use - what prompted him to begin, his life whilst using and then eventually what prompted him to stop. Except not. The latter isn't even mentioned. Other than declaring drug use to be a silly habit that he regrets, it doesn't tell us anything about how, why or when he stopped and for me, that was the most interesting part. 

The problem is, it's Stephen Fry. He's obviously talented, clever and very witty, and so the good parts of More Fool Me are very good. It made me snuffle with amusement a few times as he perfectly captured the essence of Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson (or so I'd imagine - they hardly ever return my postcards, you know) and there's a very moving chapter about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

   We all arose early the next morning. Why I didn't photograph Hugh Laurie hoovering the drawing-room carpet I have no idea. It would be worth millions in black-mail money today. Ah well.*

*I was wise enough to run the manuscript of this book by Hugh to check for accuracy. I am sometimes accused of a good memory, but it is only good for useless things. Hugh's is both compendious and useful. I quote his response ro the paragraph above: '... not that it matters, but it was definitely Rowan who did the hoovering. I also distinctly remember him driving to the petrol station - the only place open on New Year's Day - and coming back with fig rolls, for God's sake.'
But, as I said at the beginning, Mr. Fry neatly dispelled all possible issues with it during the talk I attended - he wrote this for himself. Which is fair enough - I wish I were well-regarded enough to hash out a novel just to make myself feel better. Unfortunately, it shows. I could have dealt with the 67 pages of recap if it weren't for the third-long diary section, as the two combined render the actual book very short indeed. I just don't understand what it was trying to do or what the point of publishing the diary was.

I know it doesn't show through here, but I like Stephen Fry. He seemed approachable, genuine and likeable throughout his talk and I find him amusing on television. It's just the book I have a problem with. His anecdotes are interesting and his wit shines through on occasion, but unfortunately More Fool Me is just too cobbled-together and weird for me to recommend it.

Read my review of Stephen Fry's novel, Making History. 

3 comments:

  1. No you have to be honest! Excellent review. Thank you.

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  2. I'm just jealous you got to hear him speak, TBH. I've had Moab is my Washpot since I was a teenager (bipolarites unite!) but still haven't read it, despite hearing not a single bad word against it ever. I should... y'know, get on that. *sighs* I'll definitely read the other two though, just because STEPHEN FRY. I'm sure I'll get something out of each of them even if they're not the best books I've ever read. :)

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  3. Great review - 3 memoirs is excessive, but he does seem to redeem himself with new funny anecdotes and at least he acknowledges that he wrote this more for himself. However, I don't plan on reading this one. My biggest pet peeve are those long recaps!

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