Perhaps still best known in this country for his portrayal of the unflappable gentleman's gentleman Jeeves in the BBC/PBS Jeeves and Wooster series, Stephen Fry is a writer, actor, and comedian just the shady side of 40. He would admit that some of his life has been pretty shady indeed. It has also been so eventful and so worth musing upon that in this volume he gets only as far as his acceptance to Cambridge. The promise of a sequel is implicit, and anyone who enjoys the shenanigans, opinions, digressions, and divertissements of this, Fry's first formally autobiographical book, will want to pressure him to write ever more quickly.
Fry has used his early life as literary material before. His novel The Liar gave us some idea of his turbulent years at an English public school and of his first love, for a fellow student. It is that mad love that stands at the center of this ruthlessly frank memoir. Coming with the full emotional chaos of puberty and to a boy already alienated from most of his schoolmates by a loathing of everything athletic this early passion helped unhinge Fry. In only a few years, he became a liar, a thief, a truant (he was ultimately expelled), and a near suicide. Yet, in a book bracingly free of recriminations and grudges, Fry blames no one for his crimes, misdemeanors, or adolescent unhappiness. One of Fry's many targets for he is a sane and able polemicist is facile psychologizing, easy excuses, fuzzy thinking.
Fry addresses the reader directly, abandons chronology, flies onto tangents ranging from the sublime nature of music to lessons learned from E. M. Forster and Montaigne, engages in riotous wordplay, and charms with a wit like that of his hero Oscar Wilde. One of his schoolmasters once tagged him, ambivalently, as exuberant. That exuberance made this unique autobiography a huge bestseller in England and should win over a large, enthusiastic audience here.
Randall Curb is a writer in Greensboro, Alabama.