Bitchiness? They wrote the books on it

Autobiographies are the perfect place to settle some old scores. John Walsh rates some of the cattiest accounts on paper

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The Independent Culture

There has been an outpouring of autobiography that doesn't observe many niceties when dealing with lovers, spouses or old friends. Here are four of the most notable, plus a classic of the genre from the 1990s.

Joseph Anton, by Salman Rushdie

Revelations "Joseph Anton" was the nom de guerre Rushdie adopted when on the run for 11 years from 1989. The book's 600 pages cover his life to date, concentrating on his ducking and hiding and constructing a public persona as an "icon-Salman". He doesn't, however, spare his wives: though the first, Clarissa, possesses "radiance", the second, writer Marianne Wiggins, is accused of envying his success and taking revenge by giving nasty interviews to The Sunday Times. Wife Number Three, Elizabeth West, is pictured in a New York room tearing jealous, vituperative strips off Salman's new love, Padma Lakshmi, who becomes Wife No 4 and is coldly described posing and pirouetting for the Hollywood paparazzi.

Bitch Factor ***

Diaries II, by Edwina Currie

Revelations The former MP gaily admits to adultery, assaulting a former Hollyoaks star, and feeling jolly pleased when Labour won in 1997. Her poor ex-husband, Ray, is written off a bore and a disappointment in the sack: "Having him touch me, or make love, just felt wrong, as if I was doing it with my father." According to Currie, most MPs slavered with lust on meeting her – and she confides to us that John Major, with whom she had a four-year affair, was a swordsman of the boudoir. "Believe me, I didn't have to teach that man anything." Eeeeewww. She even gives Mrs Major a verbal pat on the head after seeing her at a reception: "Norma looked lovely – she's really grown into her role. " Aaaarrrggghh!

Bitch Factor *****

Vanished Years, by Rupert Everett

Revelations The follow-up to Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by the most queenily indiscreet but stylistically accomplished of modern actors. The first volume began with an image of young Rupe, aged six, sitting on a swing, wearing his mother's tweed skirt. Later we get the years as a rent-boy and a heroin addict, the demimonde of London parks, alleys and garages, the transsexual hi-jinks available in the Bois de Boulogne, his affairs with Ian McKellen, Susan Sarandon and Paula Yates, his friendship with Madonna. Details of the new book are sketchy, but his willingness to shock can be seen in current pronouncements such as: "I can't think of anything worse than being bought up by two gay dads." (Hi there, Elton!)

Bitch Factor **

Life, by Keith Richards

Revelations The Human Riff's 500-page autobiography is crammed with reckless disclosures – about drugs, guns, police raids, his occasional bursts of violence – and furious hatred, especially of his home town, Dartford, and his school. They're balanced by his enthusiasm for the blues. But when writing about Mick Jagger, a discordant note of personal spite is sounded. When you were pursuing my girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, Keith tells his old friend, "I was knocking Marianne, man. While you're missing it, I'm kissing it." Charming. Later he's merciless about Jagger's conceit, his Lead Vocalist Syndrome, his awful fondness for disco music and, famously, his "tiny todger".

Bitch Factor *****

Sir Vidia's Shadow, by Paul Theroux

Revelations Theroux describes a 30-year friendship gone sour and evokes the eminent figure of novelist VS Naipaul as an egotistical monster: rude, perverse, stridently racist towards Indians and Africans, hungry for honours, morbidly averse to sex, careless of friendships, callous to his wife (and neglectful when she contracts cancer), and altogether an 18-carat shit. The New York Times called it "less a memoir than an onslaught of sticks and stones."

Bitch Factor *********