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Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry
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Moab Is My Washpot (original 1997; edition 1998)

by Stephen Fry

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2,246442,853 (4.06)79
EmScape's review
Maybe it's just too British for me, and possibly a bit pleonastic, but most of this book just went right around my head. I wouldn't say over my head because I'm sure I have the capacity to understand what the devil "Cambridge Blue" means and how exactly the British school system is structured, but having very rarely come into contact with it before, I have to say it's just beyond me.
Fry's rambling memoir also devolves into long non-chronological rants upon such things as Authors he has Loved (most of which I'd never heard of) and How Music Feels, which, as even he acknowledges, is impossible to put to paper. His anecdotal tales were much more amusing and diverting than much of what else he's filled his memoir with. It's almost an exercise in recollection therapy, in which he attempts to understand the psychological motivations for much of his youthful behavior. I suppose it is important to suss out your reasons why when you've been given every opportunity, proceed to make a muck of things, and emerge to be wildly successful, but he doesn't even get to the success and fame part. He ends things just after having "sat his Cambridge exams" (whatever that means) and going to apply to be a schoolmaster. I am aware that further memoirs have been written, and I am interested to know what happens next, but I am somewhat apprehensive that additional writing by this comedic performer will also not be as jocular as I had hoped when picking up this volume. ( )
1 vote EmScape | Jul 7, 2012 |
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Showing 1-25 of 42 (next | show all)
A wonderful autobiography. The cricket match story alone is worth the price of admission. ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Aug 1, 2013 |
MOAB IS MY WASHPOT is an autobiography that covers the first 20 years of Stephen Fry’s life. I have long been a fan of this articulate, incredibly clever and funny man. But like many who work in comedy, there is a dark core to Mr. Fry, and unlike many, he has a ‘past’. In Stephen Fry’s past there is stealing and lying, and a short term in prison. His dark core is that he suffers from bipolar disorder, this last bit of information doesn’t come out in this book, however it explains a lot of the feelings that he experiences in his story.

If you have ever watched Stephen Fry’s TV show QI you will know that he rambles along on various subjects, getting sidetracked, and then eventually comes back on track again. This is exactly how he has written his story. I loved it for the most part; there were one or two areas where I felt I was being preached at rather than told of his opinion or stand on a subject, and my eyes just glazed over as they are wont to do when I am being lectured. I admire his openness as he shared the stuff from his past, activities that a lot of people would prefer to never mention again. The reader learns that he stole from his mother, a pensioner, his school chums and staff at the boarding schools he attended. He doesn’t make excuses for his behaviour, just tells it like it is. He also reveals his growing awareness of his homosexuality, not that he had problems with the knowledge, but more that he understood that this was normal for him but baffled why others didn’t think it was normal. MOAB IS MY WASHPOT ends with his release from prison, then a very dark time where he attempts suicide, followed by a new start as he followed his dream of being an actor. Stephen Fry’s story is witty, bare to the bone honest and very moving, but a little preachy at times.
( )
  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
The insight into Stephen Fry's fucked up childhood was fascinating, but because of the negative nature of it, it didn't feel quite as magnetic as his more upbeat Fry Chronicles. Still, it's not the say that the book wasn't good. On the contrary, Fry's playful language is a treat, as usual, and his stories evoke strong emotions. It's really quite good. ( )
1 vote sibane | Mar 30, 2013 |
Bit annoying at the beginning with the meandering nature of the story but has a much stronger finish. Amazingly frank. ( )
  MarkTJones | Mar 30, 2013 |
Look, it's no secret to anyone who knows me in the slightest: I love this man. He is my inspiration and my hero, I love his attitude to life, his sense of humour and unflinching ability to stand up and speak out for what he believes in.

He here tells a brutally honest account of his growing up and how he first came to realise that he was gay. He takes the reader through his days in a boarding school where he struggled to fit in and constantly rebelled against, without knowing quite why. He tells of his troubled mind and how it led him to spend time in prison prior to completing his education at Cambridge, he also speaks of his first love and questions his own thoughts and feelings. Fry attempts to analyse his own behaviour, struggling himself to understand why he grew up the way he did when he was treated no differently to his brother.

It is honest, it is funny, poignant and sometimes sad. It is nearly always curious and often confused. But it is never apologetic. Good for you, Stephen. ( )
2 vote emleemay | Mar 30, 2013 |
I ask myself three questions when I have read an autobiography:

1) was it honest?
2) did it elicit emotion from me?
3) did I get to know the author?

The answer to those three questions with regard to Stephen Fry's, "Moab is My Washpot" was a resounding yes.

This autobiography takes the reader through the first 20 years of Stephen Fry's life. Fry holds nothing back as he describes his life with his family, his schooling, his sexuality and troubles with the law. At no time does Fry try to paint himself as anything other than what he was, good or bad.

This autobiography was funny, poignant and very real. By the end I felt I knew Stephen Fry. I look forward to reading Part II of his life, "The Fry Chronicles". ( )
  Canadian_Down_Under | Mar 27, 2013 |
Maybe it's just too British for me, and possibly a bit pleonastic, but most of this book just went right around my head. I wouldn't say over my head because I'm sure I have the capacity to understand what the devil "Cambridge Blue" means and how exactly the British school system is structured, but having very rarely come into contact with it before, I have to say it's just beyond me.
Fry's rambling memoir also devolves into long non-chronological rants upon such things as Authors he has Loved (most of which I'd never heard of) and How Music Feels, which, as even he acknowledges, is impossible to put to paper. His anecdotal tales were much more amusing and diverting than much of what else he's filled his memoir with. It's almost an exercise in recollection therapy, in which he attempts to understand the psychological motivations for much of his youthful behavior. I suppose it is important to suss out your reasons why when you've been given every opportunity, proceed to make a muck of things, and emerge to be wildly successful, but he doesn't even get to the success and fame part. He ends things just after having "sat his Cambridge exams" (whatever that means) and going to apply to be a schoolmaster. I am aware that further memoirs have been written, and I am interested to know what happens next, but I am somewhat apprehensive that additional writing by this comedic performer will also not be as jocular as I had hoped when picking up this volume. ( )
1 vote EmScape | Jul 7, 2012 |
Usually avoid childhood memoirs, but so glad I picked this up. Incredibly honest and evocative. It brought back all the angst of school-days, of hating sport and failing to get-with-the programme because of being besotted with the unattainable, and grieving for the object of adoration even though they are still there, because they have grown and coarsened out of what they were.

No doubt it is an every day occurrence, but I am so grateful that Stephen Fry wrote it down, and with such great tenderness and humour. ( )
  LARA335 | May 27, 2012 |
I love this man, and I love this book. So open, honest and candid about his childhood and adolescence. A brave undertaking for anyone.

http://wp.me/p20PAS-6R ( )
  jll1976 | Mar 1, 2012 |
I absolutely loved this book.His description of falling in love for the first time brought tears to me eyes. ( )
  TraceyChick | Nov 22, 2011 |
Having just finished reading Harry Potter it's fascinating to read another, very different boarding school story. Stephen Fry's first volume of autobiography is big on adolescent angst, boarding school and (almost) hopeless first love, but is neither self pitying nor sentimental and, unfashionably seeks not to blame others for the trouble he got himself into. Those who were not in the "in" crowd at school will find much familiar here, even though few took things as far as Stephen Fry. ( )
  Figgles | Oct 7, 2011 |
I really enjoyed this. It was so honest (sometimes brutally so) and unflinching. There were so many things it would have been easier for Fry to have left out, but that he included them shows a real bravery. I have always respected Stephen Fry for his intelligence, and his humour, and his way of managing to make so much sound interesting but somehow knowing he hasn’t always had it easy, and hasn’t always been the greatest person makes me respect him more. That he has gone through certain things, and has turned his whole life around. It would have been so easy to say he was young and stupid but he doesn’t try to excuse himself of anything, he knows he should have done better. I loved how he was so honest about his emotions throughout. He could have just written it as a this is what happened and made a book out of it but then I don’t think it would have been particularly special, emotion is something only an autobiography can fully do when writing about fact. At some points he went of on tangents, or even rants which lasted several pages. I suppose for some this could have been annoying but it made the book seem less manufactured to me and more like he was speaking to you. The only other of Fry’s books I have read is The Liar. I found that plot wise (if we can say an autobiography has a plot) The Liar carried along more nicely, but nobodies life is all action after all and considering that you didn’t really get bored with Moab is my Washpot. I did find this one easier to read in some ways though, they both had the same style of writing which was almost poetic, and they both had words or ideas that I found hard to grasp but I think part of what made The Liar was that it was meant to confuse whereas Moab is my Washpot was quite simple. ( )
  Lucybird | Aug 27, 2011 |
I feel incredibly lucky that not only is Stephen Fry coming to The Netherlands, I get to go see him! He will be here to talk about The Stephen Fry Chronicles, part two of his autobiography. So in preparation I had to read at least part one, Moab is my Washpot. This is the story of his life up to university. He is away at boarding school, grows up, struggles (a lot) with growing up, his body and his sexuality, and his kleptomaniac tendencies, leading him to jail.
If you like Stephen Fry, his wit, his exquisite use of the English language, his knowledge and his rambling and then getting back to the point, you will love this book. If you don’t… stay away. Needless to say, I love Fry, and I loved this book. I especially loved the honesty, he really tells all, or at least seams to. And I love the pictures. ( )
  divinenanny | May 26, 2011 |
This book is the very start of the story of Stephen Fry. With this novell, Fry delves deep into the compelling issues that make the Fry we know today. Everything from homesexuality, to the ttime he spent in jail. This book is informative, interesting, sad, happy endearing and absolutley hilarious!!!!!! a great read for age range 15+. ( )
  SMG-lblake | Mar 8, 2011 |
Brash, garrulous ( )
  Faradaydon | Mar 1, 2011 |
A much needed little injection of 'englishness' while at univ. in Paris. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, quick and easy read; 1 'moab is my wash pot' = about a week's leisurely on the metro addiction. love Fry's writing style; most of the time quite chatty. Might or might not be an insight behind the QI face we all know and love, do get the distinct impression at times that may only be allowing the reader behind one layer of a carefully contructed facade. Are Stephen Frys like onions?? This is, of course, his prerogative, and one wouldn't want a memoir/autobigraphy to be ALL-revealing, it would ruin the fun of it. The odd title; this is never explicitely explained, but I think I got it (?). ( )
1 vote KateLowry | Dec 16, 2010 |
Stephen Fry is delightful. In part because Stephen Fry's writing is delightful. An autobiography on Stephen Fry should therefore be ... precisely. And it is. In a weird, sometimes slightly disturbing way.

This book deals with his experiences at school, his criminal tendencies, his sexual awakening and his first love. It starts on the train to boarding school and culminates in prison (which is apparently oddly like boarding school in a number of ways) and then the entrance to Cambridge.

Autobiographies have a habit of becoming either self-glorifying grand narratives inexorably driving the author towards his major achievements, or staid sequences of events of the "and then I did this", however sprinkled with juicy anecdotes and opinions about how everyone else went wrong. Stephen Fry, being delightful, manages to avoid both clichés.

He laughs at linearity and digresses to his heart's content, skipping backwards and forwards with glee. The first time he did it he did not signal it, and it left me confused for a moment; but as the confusion passed I realised how much I love this way of doing autobiography: he holds in his mind at the same time the memory of himself as a boy and the world around him as it was then, and the knowledge of how it all develops. He does not force the one to submit to the other, in a sort of bleak determinism or an equally problematic nostalgia. Instead he is constantly commenting on the construction of the image of the past that he is creating. The opening words provide a good example:

For some reason I recall it as just being me and Bunce. No one else in the compartment at all. Just me, eight years old, and this inexpressibly small dab of misery who told me in one hot, husky breath that his name was Samuelanthonyfarlowebunce.

I remember why we were alone now. My mother had dropped us off early at Paddington Station.


The impression it gives is not one of fact recounted but of the progress of remembering. Interspersed with the memories are philosophical observations, literary discussions (there is some very good stuff about a gay, dandyfied counter-culture in opposition to the ideal of muscular christianity and its heteronormativity. And P.G. Wodehouse, of course.) and some delicious common sense.

The strangest part of reading the book was the oscillation in my mind between absorbing this book as a piece of literature, empathising with the protagonist and thoroughly enjoying myself, and the knowledge that this is Stephen Fry recounting (or at least producing an image of) his childhood. The story of how he was made to see a speech therapist, for example, is very different when you know how wonderfully distinctly he speaks now. The idea that his speech might be incomprehensible is so wildly unbelievable that it somehow becomes wildly interesting. That, and I love trying the tongue twisters. I think I startled my boyfriend by suddenly saying that

Betty had a bit of bitter butter and put it in her batter and made her batter bitter. Then Betty put a bit of better butter in her bitter batter and made her bitter batter better. (103)

I also laughed out loud several times (cue more startled looks), despite the fact that so much of the book is taken up with recounting humiliations and difficulties in fitting in among other children. The theme should make it sad and difficult to read, but it is told in such a way that it is delightful (that word again),even hilarious. There is a story about a dead mole and an evil girl with a donkey which cannot be summarised. And Fry's rants about the horror of not being able to sing had me giggling.

The book also left me feeling that I now know all I ever needed to know about a young gay man's sexual awakening. Not to mention all the stuff that apparently goes (went?) on at public schools. But while I am usually very prudish about this sort of thing, it did not put me off here. Perhaps because of the way it is written. And perhaps because it was all tied up with rants about the evils of sports and physical education. I sympathise entirely. There is the marvellous passage which states that,

you could fuck me with a pineapple and call me your suckpig, beat me with chains and march me up and down in uniform every day and I would thank you with tears in my eyes if it got me off games. (233)

The description of his first love was charming. I am, of course, left with a powerful curiosity as to the identity of this ``Matthew'' (a pseudonym to ``spare blushes all round''), but it doesn't really matter. The idea of this boy, and the description of Fry's subtle approaches are so sweetly endearing I wanted to look up and go "awwww" at people. Homosexuality adds an extra component to the drama of teenage feelings, of course; and it is very interesting to read his thoughts on the strange rules of the public school environment, about what is ``queering'' (and therefore unacceptable) and what is just having sex with a boy (which is fine).

As I said, it ends in his 19th year (if my maths are right). The culmination of this part of his life is really a very shocking and sad one. It ends in a suicide attempt followed by a crime spree and then prison. But even at its saddest, it is an entertaining read. I had tears in my eyes sometimes, but I laughed more. And the book, thankfully ends at an opening up towards brighter things, with his entrance to Cambridge in 1976.

Still, I really hope the second volume, which comes out on September 13 this year, is happier than the first, because while it is entertaining as literature, it is very sad when you realise it is a description of an actual experience of growing up. And, Stephen Fry being delightful, you want him to have had a delightful life as well. Of course, that might have given us as readers fewer exquisite passages. But that thought is somehow morally problematic, isn't it? ( )
3 vote camillahoel | Sep 1, 2010 |
I have read a disgustingly filthy, sometimes proud, often conceited, over-privileged, occasionally arrogant and slightly posh-prat tell me how he eventually amended his behaviour and became an unofficial but undoubted National Treasure. It is Stephen Fry, and I heartily commend the book to anyone who admires the man and enjoys good writing. At the end I wanted to hug the guy, and urge him to hurry up and write another four or five volumes. It is his best book so far. (And I have read the others, which are all worth reading.) The title, Moab Is My Washpot, is a quotation from the Bible. As I write my own diary stuff I am aware that this wonderful book, an account of his first twenty years, can help my own attempt at honest. But the book makes me also aware that writing your own story can never be wholly honest. ( )
2 vote kettle666 | Aug 3, 2010 |
The Stephen Fry I 'know' is intimidatingly clever, undoubtedly smug, but very loveable and above all exceptionally witty. The narrator of this book - Stephen the autobiographer - is all these things. The Young Schoolboy Stephen he writes about is all these things too. Young Schoolboy Stephen is also a horrible little git. A troubled horrible little git admittedly, but a horrible little git nonetheless.

What's unusual is that Stephen-the-autobiographer fully accepts that he was horrible, and makes no excuses for it. "Yes" he says, "I was confused because I was gay and Jewish and borderline genius and suffering from unrequited love". Many autobiographers would add "That's why I lied and stole and was cruel and generally did my selfish best to self-destruct". Instead, Stephen stresses that these were arguably factors in his remarkable messed-up-edness, but that they definitely weren't responsible for his actions and that he ultimately has nothing but his own character to blame.

So does this mean he is refreshingly honest and unafraid of being disliked? Or does it mean he is unafraid of Young Stephen being retrospectively disliked - while strongly emphasising "This isn't me NOW. I'm ashamed of it NOW"? Then again, his unflinching description of Horrible Git Stephen is still mixed with a healthy dose of familiar Fry charm and endearing insecurities. Is he saying, in smug Stephen fashion, "This kid's detestable, but you love him anyway, don't you?" Which I do actually. It's all very confusing.

So I've decided, I won't care. At the end of the day, this book is moving and intelligent and bloody funny. I love the random tangents as well. Now I'm off to watch QI. ( )
2 vote Tess22 | Jun 30, 2010 |
This is a good memoir, full of interesting stories of the mischievous early life. However an over-emphasis on his sex life is a little distracting.
  sbrumfit | Jun 22, 2010 |
PLUS -
• Stephen Fry is an high profile person, bordering on the ubiquitous on UK television / radio / media, and it was interesting to find out about his background.

MINUS -
• I'm not an avid reader of autobiographies, and this struck me a little too much of being self analysis and navel gazing. I suppose that's part of the attraction if you like that sort of thing. So for me....
• Mildly interesting, without being really engrossing. ( )
1 vote CaroTheLibrarian | Feb 16, 2010 |
Stephen Fry's Moab is My Washpot is a brilliant example of a well written memoir. Although it is disappointing that Fry left out (for good reason) his years at Cambridge, Moab does cover his early years until he is in his twenties. A great read for a fan of Fry.

I was most impressed with Fry's ability to tell the story of his childhood and adolescence while all the while interjecting pieces of his forty year old life. It was refreshing to see the childish Stephen paired up against the Stephen we all know and love today.

His stories of his first (unrequited) love were heart warming and his tales of boarding school interesting for anyone, like myself, who would have no way of knowing the ins and outs of boarding school life. Especially in a country different from my own ( )
  Letter4No1 | Feb 5, 2010 |
Clever, witty, articulate, open commentary on Stephen Fry's life up to his winning a scholarship to Cambridge aged 20. ( )
  TheoClarke | Oct 12, 2009 |
Brilliantly written, joyfully meandering autobiography of Stephen Fry's school years. Interesting, funny and poignant. ( )
1 vote swooshiain | Sep 21, 2009 |
Perhaps you picked up this book not knowing Stephen. Well, you're about to get very closely acquainted.

There is something about the way Stephen strings together words in lists that rolls off your tongue in some sort of symbiotic symmetry & the things he goes on about (passion, obfuscations, insults, literature,...) delights, captivates &... obfuscate. How can he even wonder why people treat him like a living encyclopaedia?

The matter of life, growing up & falling in love is all dealt with in the manner I would expect a long lost twin would to his other.

To me, his story is a reminder of that old adage about not everything meeting the eye, & the truth in all fables of redemption. ( )
  shiunji | Sep 9, 2009 |
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