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Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander…

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2005)

by Alexander Masters

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There is not alot I can say about this book that has not already been said by other people on this site except to say that it is the only book that I have ever finished with tears streaming down my face! At the beginning of the book i really disliked Stuart but as I got further through the book I was drawn to his character and what had happened in his life to make him the way he was. I would reccomend this book to anyone who has ever looked down on a homeless person - you don't known what caused them to be in that situation. ( )
  WWDG | May 6, 2015 |
One of those books that I would call "important" if it didn't sound so trite. Stuart's story is not only engaging, it makes you think. Masters' perspective on homelessness is refreshingly balanced and utterly honest. The ending of the story was flawless - I could read it over and over again. ( )
  aea2142 | Jan 12, 2014 |
Finished this brilliant book today. It is the story of a man who probably shares a lot in common with other homeless men but who has a unique voice and ability to share and contemplate his experiences. The narrative is quite disjointed, switching from the present (the story of the author's relationship with Stuart as they work together on behalf of two shelter workers who have been unjustly imprisoned) to the past and back again, with the chapters on Stuart's past working chronologically backward to his childhood. It was difficult for me to follow at first but I soon found the rhythm of it and came to see it as another way to illustrate just how unstructured and disjointed Stuart's life was.

Stuart is a delightful yet concurrently alarming character, swinging from personable and witty to out-of-his-mind violent. His story illustrates the near futility of trying to solve the problem of crime and the homeless. According to the author, Stuart is part of the "chaotic homeless...[who] are beyond repair...What unites the chaotic is the confusion of their days. Cause and effect are not connected in the usual way. Beyond their own governance, let alone within grasp of ours, they are constantly on the brink of raring up or breaking down. Charity staff fuss especially hard over these people because they are the worst face of homeless and, when not the most hateful, the most pitiable extremity of street life."

When asked how long he lived in a particular place, Stuart replies, "To be honest, that sort of question don't mean nothing to a person like me. That's what you're going to find difficult to understand. You grew up with order so you're going to want order to explain things. Where, me, anything ordered was wrong. It weren't a part of my days. My life is so complicated it's hard for me to actually say what happened in them days let alone in what order." So Stuart lives a chaotic life but has the intellect to recognize why it is difficult to understand.

When Masters met Stuart, the homeless man was living in a flat and receiving medical care. He was off drugs and considered a success story by the government workers who had helped him. After spending a couple of years with Stuart, Masters comments in frustration, "If Stuart is a success story, then it is pointless to imagine that we can ever really help these people without breaking the national budget...The chaotic? It isn't a bedsit and employment that they need; it is a new brain."

The actual story of Stuart's life could probably belong to any one of a thousand homeless men. He had violence in his genes from his father, he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of those he should have been able to trust, he was teased and bullied until he "discovered" violence, he sought escape in drugs and drink, he raged at the world. In that brief synopsis, he's almost a cliche. But at the hands of Alexander Masters, who became his friend and who genuinely tried to understand Stuart, his life, and the way of life of the homeless, Stuart becomes a tragic and poetic character.

The power of Stuart's story is in the telling and in putting a single unique face to the homeless. It is heartbreaking and hopeless but has flashes of great hope and humor. I highly recommend it. ( )
1 vote glade1 | Sep 28, 2013 |
This is the story of Stuart Shorter, a former homeless man and drug addict, as told by his writer/illustrator friend Alexander. Stuart and Alexander meet at the Wintercomfort homeless centre in Cambridge during a campaign to free the centre's directors from prison (they had been arrested for allegedly condoning drug deals on the premises). Stuart wanders into a campaign meeting and provides the organizers with firsthand insights into the prison experience. From there, Alexander sets out to tell the life story of Stuart, working backwards to discover just how he became the person he ended up as.

It was Stuart's idea to tell the story backwards; he envisioned it as a sort of murder mystery, a murder of the psyche. Alexander interviews Stuart's family, delves into archives and recounts his own encounters with Stuart to tell the whole story. He does so very wryly; dealing with Stuart is always an adventure and does not lack for exasperation. Alexander does his best to understand the life Stuart leads, although Stuart does sometimes have to remind him that, as a "nine-to-fiver", Alexander sees life a bit differently.

Stuart did not lead an entirely happy life: sexual abuse, drug addiction, psychiatric issues, and so on. Still, there are moments that will make the reader crack a smile: I liked the parts where Stuart would comment on Alexander's manuscript (the first draft was "bollocks boring") or his illustrations (one of a police dog earned the comment "You muppet, Alexander, it was an Alsatian not a pug"). The humour helps but does not entirely alleviate (and nor should it alleviate) the hard times. Reading this book will give you a firsthand look at the issues of homelessness, poverty and drug addiction, as well as the problems and struggles of "The System" that is intended to help but sometimes does harm.

The book was first published in 2005 and made into a TV movie in 2007, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alexander and Tom Hardy as Stuart. Recommended for those who like biographies of lesser-known figures or who are interested in social issues. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jun 8, 2013 |
Marvellous. A biography and also a tale of the friendship between “rageous” Stuart, a homeless, chaotic man, and the author, an advocate for the homeless. Not sentimental or sloppy, “told with humour, horror, and exasperation” says the blurb. That sums it up nicely. ( )
  BCbookjunky | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Alexander, sort it out - you're the writer.

I just done the living.

Stuart Shorter
For my father, Dexter Masters
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Stuart does not like the manuscript.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007200374, Paperback)

this is the story of Stuart Shorter; thief, hostage-taker, psycho, and street raconteur. IT is a story told backwards, as he wanted, form the man he was when Alexander Msters met him to a happy go lucky boy of twelve. brillant, humane and funny, it is as extraordinary and unexpected as the life it describes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:59 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

'Stuart' is the story of an extraordinary friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison.

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