Stephen Fry has a terribly British way of writing, a bit like Bill Bryson, so fans of his TV work with Hugh Laurie or as host on QI know what to expect. His humour is dry, self deprecating, and apologetic for his privileged background. In this book, he writes the memoirs of his early years, until the age of about twenty.
Fry frequently apologises for his story about “going off the rails” when he had everything that a boy could need. And… well, it really is a book about first world problems. And young Stephen doesn’t come out of the story unscathed. It’s amusing to read about how he looks back and sees himself as a complete snot, and then proceeds to regale us with his past snottiness with pride.
The stories about boarding school life are interesting, Fry’s family are interesting, but play too small a role. The author himself appears to suffer from crippling self doubt, that lead him to stealing from his classmates, friends, teachers and eventually getting caught. He’s thrown out of several school institutions, and eventually goes on a credit card fraud funded spree across the country. Fry comes across as kind of a jerk.
Where the book really comes into it’s own is the authors internal struggle. It’s painful to read about Stephen struggling with his feelings about himself, and his feelings about being gay. The boys boarding school community is both very homoerotic and completely homophobic. I can’t imagine how confusing and shaming that must have been, it’s so simple when you’re straight because it’s all socially acceptable. You can talk about how you feel, you can openly crush on someone, or ask them out. I mean, it’s awkward, but as much as it might not feel like it, you’re not really risking anything. Boys schools are apparently very vicious places.
I think in that sense, it’s a very valuable and well told story. It made me think a lot about how important it is to support and welcome people, which I try to do anyway. I felt sad for this awkward, intelligent kid who couldn’t accept himself, and wasn’t in a safe and loving environment. A kid who has to contort himself and hide how he feels because it’s not the done thing to be gay. That’s sad.
In a lot of ways, I think Mr Fry is still that awkward kid, trying to hide himself from us all behinds words and confidence tricks.
Read It If: Obviously will please the Stephen Fry fans, but is an amusing read, in an awfully British way.