Memoirs: Once in a quinquennium revelations!!!
Books Of The Year
Sunday 11 December 2011
The most jaw-sagging memoir of the year came not from planet celebrity, fugged in its PR ozone, but from Brian Sewell, the 80-year-old art critic; specialist subject: being contrary.
For decades, his lips have remained tight about his sexuality. Now, in Outsider: Always Almost: Never Quite (Quartet, £25) he gives a new meaning to the idea of five fruit and veg a day, claiming to have had "easily a thousand sexual partners in a quinquennium". I'm always suspicious of extravagant retrospective claims (a quinquennium is five years), but with the revelation that he's the illegitimate son of the composer Peter Warlock, and some auction-house tales of ripping canvases before a sale, you can see why he kept quiet for so long.
Michael Winner can't keep schtum. He enjoyed boasting about himself so much in last year's memoir that he's served up another batch of celebrity yarns in Tales I Never Told! (Robson Press, £16.99). It has more exclamation marks than any book ever written, and more "I"s and "me"s than any memoir, but the craic is good, if familiar.
A surprise treat is Colm Tóibín's A Guest at the Feast, (Penguin ebook, £1.99) a beautiful little memoir of growing up in small-town Ireland. The petty provincial frustrations, and anxieties about class, sex and religion, are straight out of Joyce and just as poignant. It's the first of a series of nine new Penguin shorts: Tóibí* sets the bar impossibly high.
We know what to expect of Michael Moore, the humbug-exposing film-maker. He is definitely A Good Thing. But if you've ever felt the faintest exasperation at the self-rightousness, steer clear of Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life (Allen Lane, £20). Apparently, he was present at various history-changing moments, and helped "eliminate racial discrimination". The boasting is tiring, and for someone so keen on getting to the truth, Moore is all too ready to embellish anecdotes with implausibly well-remembered colour ....
As much as Moore knocks the establishment, William Rees-Mogg is desperate to be part of it. The editor of The Times from 1967 to 1981, his Memoirs (Harper Press, £30) lacks the usual score-settling fireworks of journalists' memoirs, and is laughably oblivious to how complacent, snobbish and priggish he sounds, getting nostalgic for Eton though he went to Charterhouse. Modesty never forbids: his early biography of Anthony Eden was "not a bad little book" and his family home, Cholwell (a Victorian monster in Somerset) "is indeed a prominent landmark". Craig Brown couldn't write it better.
Diane Keaton is hardly bashful in Then Again (Fourth Estate, £18.99). Of her adopted children, she writes: "People say they're lucky to have me. I don't know about that ... the real story is, I'm the lucky one." But her anecdotes do feature A-listers. Warren Beatty was a gent – when she was scared of flying, he boarded the plane and held her hand all the way from LA to New York, only to fly straight back again. She still loves Woody Allen, and Al Pacino is the one that got away, as they both had other partners when they filmed the "It was an abortion" scene of The Godfather Part II. Cut with her mother's diaries, the saccharine runs dangerously high: better to buy the DVD of Annie Hall. La-de-da.
Amy Winehouse fans have a couple of choices, but sadly no memoir. Chas Newkey-Burden updated his 2008 biography (John Blake, £7.99) with unseemly haste after the singer's death in July; now Mick O'Shea has written Amy Winehouse: A Losing Game (Plexus, £14.99). I say write, but it's a shameless cuttings job with a few glossy pics. There's no evidence that he ever met her, and the clichés pile up fast: ambulances "screech to a halt" and Camden Square, where Amy died, is lined with "lavish houses" and "well-heeled residents". True fans may want to wait a bit longer.
Only true fans, presumably, will be buying Tinie Tempah: My Story So Far, (Ebury, £14.99), though I can recommend alternating chapters with William Rees-Mogg: his Peckham childhood cuts well with memories of Nanny, though where Mogg avoids revelation, Tempah tries too hard: "I think we might even have done tongues and everything!" he says of kiss chase, aged 10. Oh, and forget what I said about Michael Winner and the exclamation marks – Tempah is much, much worse!!!!
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