Chapter and terse: When memoirs turn ugly
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Monday 26 September 2011
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.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove