Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MOAB IS MY WASHPOT by Stephen Fry (1997)

My friend Jennifer gave me this memoir insisting that I read it and pass it along to someone else. I first became aware of Stephen Fry as an actor when he played the titular role in the film "Peter's Friends" (featuring his still best friend Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Brannagh and Imelda Staunton, the tony Oxbridge-educated theatrical set)and later becoming Oscar in the biopic "Wilde." From there I discovered his smart-arsy and clever novels with characters I would be happy to befriend in THE LIAR, THE HIPPOPOTAMUS, MAKING HISTORY and THE STARS'TENNIS BALLS.

MOAB IS MY WASHPOT opens smack dab in the middle of a train ride out of Paddington Station to boarding school when Stephen is Fry-the-Younger (to his older brother Roger) at the age of eight when he tries to comfort a new boy called Samuelanthonyfarlowebunce, who is a mess of 7-yr-old tears and good manners. What follows are Fry's vividly reconstructed days as a student first at Stouts Hill and then at Uppington, where he falls madly in love for the first time.

Too smart for his own good, Fry finds himself also in prison for credit card theft where he teaches an illiterate inmate how to read and is told by another that "a person like you shouldn't be in a place like this," a strong echo of what Oscar Wilde recorded in De Profundis when he was told by a fellow prisoner 100 years before, "I feel sorry for you: it's harder for the likes of you than it is for the likes of us."

Feeling he deserved the time in prison, Fry emerges with a year's probation and applies himself to his high school exams at the government-funded city school and finds himself offered a scholarship to Queen's College, Cambridge where he'll meet Hugh Laurie and begin a fruitful creative partnership that endures today.

By the end of this memoir, you'll have seen Fry "at [his] washpot scrubbing at the grime of years," and "feeling slightly less dirty about the first twenty years of [his] life. The second twenty, now that is another story."

Written with humility, candour and self-deprecating good humour MOAB IS MY WASHPOT is a compelling read.

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