Books of the year 2014: Celebrity memoirs

Alan Cumming tackles his abusive relationship with his father while Lena Dunham bares all in her debut memoir Not That Kind of Girl

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The Independent Culture

The tell-all memoir is an easy way for celebrities to propel themselves even further into the spotlight, so it is refreshing that a handful of the rich and the famous have chosen not to go down that route this year. Alan Cumming's Not My Father's Son (Canongate, £16.99) tells the story of the actor's relationship with his abusive father and the mystery surrounding his questionable paternity. The story is intertwined with his experience of taking part in the TV genealogy programme, Who Do You Think You Are?, where he comes to unravel another family secret about the real cause of his grandfather's death. Written with a beautiful economy of prose, it reads like a thriller – with only a smattering of anecdotes about enjoying first class lounges and partying with Patti Smith.

Lynda Bellingham loved indulging the reader in tales of her showbiz life in There's Something I've Been Dying To Tell You (Coronet, £16.99), but the memoir has a much more serious message. The actress bore no bones about sharing some of the most intimidate details about her bowel cancer, and did so with admirable honesty. She remained upbeat throughout and refused to become a victim of the disease, which makes the book all the more tragic a read knowing she died just two weeks after its release.

Lena Dunham is known for baring all, and is her usual frank self in her debut memoir Not That Kind of Girl (4th Estate, £16.99). Like her character Hannah in Girls, she writes in the form of a series of essays and letters with extended footnotes for extra (at times contrived) zaniness and hilarity. Her honesty about the areas of life few would ever dare to tread has led to her being vilified by the American right-wing press over a passage in which she describes looking at her baby sister's vagina at the age of seven. But however uncomfortable her writing may make some adults feel, her candid "voice of a generation" memoir about sex, body issues and mental health will resonate with women born in the Eighties and early Nineties.

As ever, this year also had its usual fill of heavyweights written by white, middle-aged, middle-class men. Stephen Fry graced the world with his third memoir More Fool Me (Michael Joseph, £25), in which he writes about the "ugly truth" of his cocaine habit that started in the late Eighties and lasted for 15 years. John Cleese also released the first 400-page volume of his memoirs So, Anyway (Random House, £20), in which he blames his problems with women on his troubled relationship with his "tyrant" mother – but fans familiar with his self-help psychology books will probably have guessed that already.