Chapter and terse: When memoirs turn ugly


You see them in bookstores, flicking straight to the index.

More often than not, they're often disappointed; that chance encounter with whichever luminary happens to be publishing an autobiography remains undocumented. But every now and then, they get lucky. They're there! In print! They made the cut!

For friends and family, the uncertainty is different. They know that they will feature, irrevocably etched as they are into the author's life. What they don't know is how. Few literary appearances have been less flattering than that of Philip Roth in Leaving a Doll's House, the 1996 autobiography from his ex-wife, actress Claire Bloom. Roth is painted as a self-obsessed misogynist, incapable of forming a relationship with Bloom's daughter. He responded by threatening legal action – and then, two years later, published a riposte: the novel I Married a Communist. Bloom takes the fictional form of Eve Frame, a shallow woman who denounces her husband in print.

"It's like having a stalker," said Tony Parsons on his frequent appearances in the memoirs and writings of Julie Burchill. The pair's short-lived marriage has offered the columnist plenty of cause for complaint; she has described their sexual liaisons as "nasty, brutish and short", and claimed Parsons is the journalist she would least like to see naked. Said Parsons: "I don't understand her fascination with someone whom she split up with 15 years ago. Has nothing happened to her since 1984?" Certainly, it is a weird concept in the extreme – though perhaps rather less so when both parties have spent whole careers airing their thoughts.

Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens must, after all, be rather accustomed to appearing in each other's work. The long-term friends have made a habit of trading blows – and compliments – in print. Last year, Hitchens claimed to be "flattered and honoured" to have made an appearance in Amis's The Pregnant Widow, in the guise of the protagonist's left-wing brother, Nicholas. He reciprocated, devoting chunks of his memoir to describing the "Jaggerish" Amis. But their words haven't always been so kind. Amis's history of Stalinist Russia, Koba the Dread, sees the author taking repeated swipes at "Comrade Hitchens'" excusal of the regime. Hitchens' review of the book was similarly barbed, accusing Amis of "mushy secondhand observations".

But if friendship has sustained Amis and Hitchens' relationship, the profit motive has proven just as successful for fellow Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Richards' superb memoir Life, saw him ridicule the diva-ish ways of the band's "unbearable" front man. In turn, Jagger called the mentions "bitchy". Still, it hasn't prevented talk of a 50th anniversary tour, an appealing prospect after their record-breaking A Bigger Bang tour. (It's also worth noting that although Richards won a GQ award for Life, the anecdotes were crafted together by a proper writer, James Fox.)

Of course, coping with an unflattering cameo needn't necessitate a response. Few silences have been more damning than that of Gordon Brown, whose character has been attacked by a raft of memoirists: from Alistair Darling to Peter Watt and Tony Blair. In a remarkable show of restraint, the former Prime Minister has resisted the urge to hit back. So far.

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food