Witty and well-written but largely forgettable.
464 pages, ★★★★
In The Fry Chronicles, Stephen Fry details his adult life, starting from his leaving prison at age 20. It starts exactly where his last book, Moab Is My Washpot, finished. Within just a few pages, Fry matriculates at Queen’s College, Cambridge University, where he thrives academically and finds a passion for acting.
I’m young, so I’ve only known Fry for his most recent TV work (I am a fan of QI, and am happy that it’s all on YouTube for free). His acting career is something to which I really can’t relate (hence my subtitle—’forgettable’). I’m sure that actors, or avid theatre-goers could find this book much more interesting than I did.
For me, Fry’s writings about Cambridge University were the most interesting. While most of his writing is respectful and upbeat, he does indulge in a page-long witty rant about “Cambridge people”, as I call them, on page 111, starting with sarcasm:
“…Garden parties on every lawn in every college for the two weeks in June that are perversely designated May Week. Dining clubs and societies, dons, clubs and rich individuals serving punch and Pimm’s beer and sangria, cocktails and champagne. Blazers and flannels, self-conscious little snobberies and affectations, flushed youth, pampered youth, privileged youth, happy youth.”
The following paragraph juxtaposes that paragraph beautifully:
“Don’t be too hard on them. Suppress the thought that they are all ghastly tosspots who don’t know they’re born, insufferable poseurs in need of a kick and a slap. Have some pity and understanding. They will get that kick and that slap soon enough. After all, look at them now. They are all in their fifties some of them on their third, forth or fifth marriage. Their children despise them. They are alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. Drugs addicts or recovering drug addicts. Their wrinkles, grey, bald, furrowed and fallen faces look back every morning from the mirror, those folds of dying flesh bearing not a trace of the high, joyful and elastic smiles that once lit them. Their lives have been a ruin and a waste. All that bright promise never quite matured into anything that can be looked back on with pride or pleasure. They took that job in the city, that job with merchant bank, stockbroker, law firm, accountancy firm, chemical company, drama Company, publishing company, any company. The light and energy, the passion, fun and faith were soon snuffed out one by one. In the grind of the demanding world their foolish hopeful dreams evaporated like mist in the cruel glare of the morning sun. Sometimes the dreams return to them at night and they are so ashamed, disappointed that they want to kill themselves. Once they laughed and seduced or were seduced, on ancient lawns, under ancient stones and now they hate the young and their music, they snort with contempt at everything strange and new and they have to catch their breath at the top of the stairs.”
He adds a quick note to reassure the readers that his rant is over, and gets his writing style promptly back on track. I love it.
Thankfully, in this book, there’s no graphic sex. In fact, Fry takes pride in being celibate for many years straight (excuse the pun). It’s a more comfortable read than Moab Is My Washpot, and more witty, too. I give this book four stars, even if the only memorable part for me was his thoughts on stereotypical “Cambridge people”. ★★★★
- Gay on the Inside, Radio 4, Preview (telegraph.co.uk)
- Stephen Fry Friday: His Musings on Life, Swearing, Depression, Shakespeare, Nanoscience & More (openculture.com)
- The Stephen Fry Effect (traceypallett.wordpress.com)
- Stephen Fry accuses Church of ‘caving in to extremists over gay marriage’ (standard.co.uk)
- The Podcast Forecast: Stephen Fry’s Podgrams (blogs.abc.net.au)