Picture Credit: Huffington Post.
When I was a little girl, Matilda was my hero. I read the book until it started to fall apart, I had listened to the audio book so many times that I could recite entire paragraphs with the exact intonation the narrator used, and I would watch the movie any time I caught it on TV. Mara Wilson, the girl who played Matilda, was not as scruffy as I had always imagined the character to look when I read the book (too sweet, especially with that ribbon in her perfectly combed hair), but I still sighed with relief every time she got her happy ending.
(I also cried a lot when I listened to the West End cast recording of the Matilda musical for the first time, but that’s a story for another time.)
Years later, Mara Wilson rushed back into my world. She had a hilarious cameo on The Nostalgia Critic’s review of A Simple Wish, became a recurring guest star on Welcome to Night Vale as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, and before I knew it I was scrolling through her Facebook feed, laughing at her posts. She’s funny! I’m so glad she’s funny! I found myself wondering why she had disappeared from the public eye all those years ago. One minute she was a star, and the next she was gone. What happened?
The first time I tried to write a review for this book, I was going to stick to the facts. I was going to marvel at what a coincidence it was that I’d read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King only a few weeks before this (review here) and comment on my mixed feelings towards its author. I was going to draw comparisons to Moby-Dick and the daemons in His Dark Materials. I’d planned to wax philosophically about how the hawk functions as a mirror in the narrative, reflecting Macdonald’s own emotions back at her, cutting her hands with its razor sharp edges.
The second time I was going to comment on how, even though my own father survived his heart attack earlier this year (which I touched upon in my review of Pyramids), I still felt that I could relate to her story of loss and bewilderment in a way that I would not have been able to before. I would have brought in other memoirs of loss, including personal favourite Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty, and knowing me, there probably would have been a reference to the Book of Job at some point.
But the picture still felt incomplete. It felt dishonest. The truth is that I could not have picked up this book at a better (or worse) time; as I was reading about Macdonald’s mourning process and her struggle to train a goshawk, I was sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of my own, clawing at the walls, unable to find my way out.
“More Fool Me” book cover.
When I was a young girl (she said, at the ripe age of 26), Stephen Fry was my hero. He was intelligent, funny, eloquent, charming, talented, well-travelled, well-connected, and well-read – everything I wanted to be. Like a lot of people, I put him up on a pedestal and idolised him. His first memoir, Moab Is My Washpot, brought him back down to earth for me. In this book, he talked about his fears and insecurities, and it helped me see him for what he truly was: just a man. He wrote about his first love, feeling like an outsider, his criminal record, and his eventual suicide attempt in a way that felt deeply, deeply personal and honest. It took the halo away for good, but if anything, I liked him even more now that he was vulnerable and flawed. Even Stephen “Britain’s National Treasure” Fry is wrecked by insecurities. Read more
Celebrity memoirs are a curious thing. They are usually written by people who are not writers, heavily edited by the publisher (again: not writers), and tend to be strictly paint-by-numbers works. There is a certain formula the public expects you to follow and all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
My childhood was _____ because my parents were _____. I grew up in _____ but always longed for something more. I discovered my passion for _____ when I was _____. I got my big break when I was ____ and now I am best known for ____. Working with ____ was absolutely amazing and I totally fangirled when I bumped into ____ at the ____ awards. So embarrassing! Anyway, here are some pictures of me as a kid. Look at that hair. What is up with that hair?
In many ways, Yes Please follows this script to the letter. Poehler writes about dreaming of adventure as a child, discovering the joys of improv comedy in college, working on SNL and Parks and Recreation, and drops a fair number of names that either mean something to you or go completely over your head, as expected. However, where this book gets interesting is the chapters where she goes off the beaten path. Whether you will enjoy this work depends on how you feel about Poehler, of course, but also on your expectations of the comedy memoir.
“The Crimson Field” still.
The second installment in my series of World War One reading lists (see: poetry and fiction). These non-fiction works range from interviews and letters to memoirs and diaries, written by both established writers and ordinary people, trying to figure out how to live in a world that was crumbling underneath their feet.