Review – “The Fry Chronicles” by Stephen Fry

>Many of us think we know Stephen Fry. He states this himself in the blurb on the dust jacket of his most recent book, The Fry Chronicles. People think of him, he states, as “Confident. Establishment. Self-assured. In charge.” He, however, believes himself to have a “sense of failure” and a feeling that he has “betrayed, abused or neglected” his considerable talent. This is, in this writer’s opinion, Fry being rather harsh on himself. Yet it is also indicative of what defines Chronicles – a refreshing honesty, an awareness of one’s own limitations, a consideration of the mistakes we all make. Yet there is also a ready humour and a warm volubility.

Fry takes the reader through his childhood, where he focuses on his addiction to sugar and his time at school. This includes, amusingly, a rather interesting description of the French poet Jean Cocteau, which I won’t repeat here, but which was the first thing in the book I read. He also describes his time in prison, teaching in a minor public school, and getting in to university. He spends most time, however, on his discussion of his life at university – something which I can, as a student, relate to in some ways. It appears to have been university which produced Fry as we no know him – comedian, wit, actor, “Pukka” Englishman (to quote Fry himself), writer. It is where he met Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie; where he became involved in acting and, later, the Footlights. Yet despite providing the reader with an interesting narrative on his most formative years, Fry seems apologetic. He apologises for the elitism of Oxbridge. He seems to want to atone for his success in exams. It is not unpleasant reading this, necessarily, it just feels that Fry does not need to apologise.

One of the highlights of the book is Fry’s ability to write pen portraits. His descriptions of many of the most important people in his life – Laurie, Emma Thompson, and his erstwhile partner Kim – are vivid, interesting and expansive. They are not critical, perhaps, but then Fry comes across as someone always seeking to find the best in people – a fine quality. If the reader of this review seeks a book which does not talk about figures from media, drama and comedy – what some may call ‘luvvies’ – in detail, or expects harsh and unrelenting criticism, then I suggest they read another book. (Perhaps David McCullough’s excellent biography of John Adams, a glorious read). This book does so and does so with a kindness that one does not, perhaps, readily associate with ‘celebrity culture’.

One does, perhaps, leave this book feeling a sense of disappointment. It’s not that is a disappointing read. It’s enjoyable. But Fry ends the narrative just after he snorts cocaine – a natural stop, it could be argued, yet it will leave the greedy reader (like me) wanting. They naturally will want to know the whole story of Fry and cocaine. They will want to know about ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’. About QI. There is no doubt, however, that this will encourage readers to buy the next book. I certainly intend to.

By Thomas Hemsley


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