Saturday, January 13, 2007

Washing Pots in Moab

I'm working through my piles of books and this morning finished reading Stephen Fry's autobiography, Moab is my Washpot. At 436 pages, the 'good bits' don't start until around page 357. Still, it's an interesting look into the life of one of Britian's funniest funny men. Fry speaks candidly and with rawness about the first 20 years of his life.

Behind the face that is Jeeves of Jeeves & Wooster lies the early years of a young boy and adolescent who struggled to find his voice and his place in English society. The middle child of three and son of an inventor, Fry spent his formative years, as do many of England's young people, attending boarding schools and pulling off pranks and pratfalls in the midst of learning. In between, he engages in petty theft and credit card fraud--crimes that eventually land him in court and prison charged as a felon. He sees the error of his ways and extracts himself from a future of dead-ends, applies himself, and goes on to succeed at Cambridge, becomes friends with the likes of Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, works as a headmaster teaching English, German, and History, and goes on to become not only one of England's hail and hearty comedians, but a spokesperson for mental illness.

Fry's autobiography also speaks of his struggles finding love and figuring himself out. He finally embraces his sexuality when he falls in love with a school chum called Matthew. While he makes no excuses for his petty thievery and wayward decision making, he does venture that society's inability to embrace homosexuality likely contributed to his misbehavior and petulance. In figuring out himself, Fry engages in some Byronesque writing that is some of the best reading in his autobiography.

All in all, an intriguing book. Written in a rambling, British conversational, stream - of - conscientiousness manner, Moab is My Washpot can be a bit of a slog, but if you're willing to read beyond page 357, you'll find a well-written story that highlights the complexities of human existence and evolution of character. Out of five stars, I'd give this a three. (And a thanks to my friend Hilary for gifting this to me.)

6 comments:

Zanne said...

Thanks for telling us about this. I've seen SF in Peter's Friends and mostly recently in Wilde (playing Oscar). He has this wistful quality that's very endearing and I'm glad to know a bit more about him.

Chr. said...

I've just finished the book myself and shared with you at finding it hard to get through at times but in the end like yourself found it a real insight. Have you read any of his fiction?

JMK said...

Zanne: I was going to add Wilde to my Netflix queue. Is it worth seeing? I've enjoyed him in J&W, as well as in other movies and bit parts he's been in. You're right about his wistful quality; 'tis rather endearing, isn't it?

Hello Chris in Ballygowan! Welcome to DCRushHour. Enjoyed your take on Fry's MiMW. I think I'll check out Peter Kay as well. I haven't read any of Fry's other books (I didn't even know he was a writer until my friend, Hilary, sent me his book), though I'd like to. Perhaps I'll start with The Hippopotamus...

Zanne said...

Yes it was pretty good--no idea how accurate but I enjoyed it nonetheless, particulary the court scene when everyone is trying to get him to admit to his "obscene behavior" and he calmly and eloquently refuses to be painted with that particular brush.

Di said...

LOVE Stephen Fry. Haven't read the book, but I think I will give it a go.

For some reason, "stream of conscientiousnesss" fully cracked me up, and reminded me of work. Why? I don't know. Maybe because I'm always worried about forgetting something important.

JMK said...

Di: Whoops! That was, obviously, meant to say 'stream of consciousness'. Hm, I wonder what Freudian thing I had going on there. If you'd like to read Washpot, I'll send it home with Dr. Lala and you can read it whist you're recuperating...