I’ve read a few articles here and there of Stephen Fry’s, but this is the first of his actual books, fiction or non-fiction, that I’ve read. Even so, I knew I was going to love it going in, as I’m already a huge fan of his. I’ve spent countless hours watching his comedy, documentaries, and interviews, and I can easily spend an evening listening to him give his opinions on any topic. He uses language in a way that can elevate fart jokes to fine art.
This is his autobiography, covering the first twenty years of his life – from childhood to his acceptance into Cambridge. He strolls through his memories, stopping now and then for a lively rant or informative digression. He’s very open in this, shockingly so at times, and it stayed interesting all the way through. The majority of the book covers fairly typical events, as this was before his life in entertainment – schoolyard trouble and embarrassment, angst over his father, experimenting and discovering his sexuality in his teens, and other such experiences an ordinary kid will have growing up. He manages to recall his childhood with a clarity, an enthusiasm, and an intellect that makes it seem a little more than ordinary.
No adolescent ever wants to be understood, which is why they complain about being misunderstood all the time.
I say these were ordinary experiences, but some, such as attending a boarding school, aren’t ordinary to me, so those events are fun to read about in their own right. Half of my enjoyment of the Harry Potter series was just the idea of going off to a boarding school every year as a kid, so in a way this is like reading about Hogwarts, only with less magic and more gay sex.
At the end of his teenage years, he really begins to struggle. After a failed suicide attempt, a long string of credit card fraud, and months without contact with his family, he found himself in jail. After his release and a change of heart, he just manages to get into the entrance exams for Cambridge and secures his acceptance.
It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.
I really enjoyed this, I’m looking forward to reading about the next chunk of his life in The Fry Chronicles, which is sitting on my shelf now. I’m still considering picking up the audio book, though. He’s too good a narrator to pass up.