Books

Musings on Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me

I’m terrible with impulse purchases – or, rather, rents. As a frequent visitor to my local library, I often pick up books on a whim (even though my reading list is physically towering), the latest victim being Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me.

Fry is one of those figures whom everyone in Britain knows of, but I, somehow, knew little about him, despite his excessively outspoken nature on all aspects of his life (this is his third volume of memoirs). More Fool Me is as informative as it can be, but I was nonetheless restricted by the fact that I haven’t read the prior two books. The equivalent of watching Spider-Man 3 to learn more about Peter Parker. That being said, the memoirs provide a healthy balance in coverage of the three chunks of Fry’s life: his upbringing in Norfolk and time at Cambridge, his extraordinary success of the 1980’s and 90’s, and his modern self – reflective, contemplative. How could a man writing his third memoir be anything but?

More Fool Me establishes how Fry’s childhood feels conflicted between privilege and normality, at least from the perspective of an outsider, both in person and in social class. His upbringing was privileged, there is no doubt about that, but he was expelled from two schools and served jail time for credit card fraud at age 17. Those factors imbue Fry with a degree of relatability (is that a little classist of me to call juvenile delinquency ‘relatable’?), but this swiftly dissipates as recollections of Cambridge begin and we enter pages upon pages of early-90’s diary entries. The accounts of his high-flying early years, in conjunction with the Cambridge eloquence in which he writes it, are delightful and gossipy. A proper insight into how the other half lives: extravagant purchases on a whim, private members clubs, rolling from column writing to glitzy premieres, and, well, cocaine addiction.

That is the reported purpose of More Fool Me: to dive deep into Fry’s years as a cocaine addict. As someone who has always viewed drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and the lot of it with disdain, it was incredibly insightful to learn what it is like on the other end. I think it is vital that all of us have more understanding for those who suffer from it. It is entirely possible to detest the drug whilst simultaneously supporting the victim. Indeed, it imbues the memories with a dark undercurrent. While Fry was making a name for himself all over the world, he was consumed by a potentially fatal enslavement to substance. In the book, Fry acknowledges his extraordinary luck, for he was able to control his usage well enough so as not to be destroyed by it. Others, though, have not been so lucky.

Where does that leave Fry? A man with a slightly befuddled sense of self-worth, more self-deprecating, more mellowed and calm than in his early career. At least, that was my impression. I love autobiographies for the personable insights one can gain, but we must be wary of them. Intentional or not, they are all carefully crafted images. Is More Fool Me merely what Fry wants us to see?

Perhaps. Or perhaps it is just a nice gossipy autobiography, intended to explore the light and dark of one’s life.

An unexpected joy of More Fool Me came not from Stephen Fry, but from an unknown, random reader who sought to correct Fry’s Spanish skills for all users of Winchester Discovery Centre to see.

Who were they? A Spaniard? A linguist? A student? I will never know, but the hand of an unknown person is now firmly embedded within the writings of a beloved cultural icon, who will never know either of us exist. The unknown Spanish-speaker will never know me, and will likely never know that their corrections are now on this blog.

How fun that this can occur. How odd it is that people see fit to share everything about their lives with the world, to people they will never know of or meet. Who in their right mind would do something like that?

That’s what’s particularly fun about memoirs and autobiographies, though, and literature and libraries overall, I suppose. Their ability to bind the writer and readers together in such unique, inventive ways.

If you’d like to know more about Stephen Fry, then I would certainly recommend More Fool Me. If nothing else, it is a breezy read, well-written, perfect for when you want to give your academic laurels a rest and just indulge in some hot gossip and musings on the nature of drug addiction. What more could you want?

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