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Unreliable Memoirs

by Clive James

Series: Unreliable Memoirs (1)

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843918,045 (3.87)37
I was born in 1939. The other big event of that year was the outbreak of the Second World War, but for the moment that did not affect me. In the first instalment of Clive James's memoirs we follow the young Clive on his journey from boyhood to the cusp of manhood, when his days of wearing short trousers are finally behind him. Battling with school, girls, various relatives and an overwhelming desire to be a superhero, Clive's adventures growing up in the suburbs of post-war Sydney are hair-raising, uproarious and almost too good to be true . . .Told with James's unassailable sense of humour and self-effacing charm, Unreliable Memoirs is a hilarious and touching introduction to the story of a national treasure. A million-copy bestseller, this classic memoir is a celebration of life in all its unpredictable glory.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
In 2015 I wrote a short review of UNRELIABLE MEMOIRS:


Many years ago I remember being given this book for my birthday with the comment "thought you might like this, he's the sort of droll smart-arse commentator that should appeal to you". The presenter of this present knew me well, although I think that they did a massive disservice to Clive James.

The first of a series of books he's subsequently written as memoir there is nobody in these books that James picks on more than himself. He has a wonderful, dry way of commenting on the obvious, of drawing out the reality of the comedy of life.

Everytime I read anything written by Clive James I'm reminded of the beauty of sparsity, of the power of the gaps between the lines. I'm also reminded that this is the first of a series of novels and James could be seen to be holding back a little. Really looking forward to reading the next of the series now.


It's one thing to know that a favourite commentator, reviewer and poet is going to die, the announcement of Clive James' illness coming many years ago now, and yet another to get the news that the inevitable has happened. We lost an intelligent, wry, acerbic, deeply thoughtful person from this earth when he died, in what seems inevitable timing for these things - just when you felt we needed him most.

But it was the ultimate reminder I needed that a good re-read was required, so I went back to UNRELIABLE MEMOIRS and I've been moving slowly through the group of memoir novels, interspersed with dips into some of his poetry, all the while returning to listen to his reading of JAPANESE MAPLE (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op8Rbtqx_Rg). Such a poignant poem, sad and reflective, all the while tempered with the knowledge that James did, indeed


Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.

What I must do

Is live to see that.That will end the game

For me, though life continues all the same:


And I can't help but think how much he would have reflected on living past the end moment of the tree itself, but I digress.

Re-reading UNRELIABLE MEMOIRS five years on from the beauty of sparsity comments above, what struck me this time was the manner in which James writes audibly. Every scene, every moment of his life is described beautifully, but in a particularly aural manner. From the sound of the click of the lid of the nightsoil man's tin, to those little moments as a kid in the Australian summer, digging a network of tunnels in the backyard, everything about this man's writing is indeed dry, sparse, littered with moments where reflection is invited, peppered with observations that make you cry with laughter. There are quotes aplenty from these books available to those that search. My advice would be to read the books. Read every single one of his books. Re-read them.


Rilke used to say that no poet would mind going to gaol, since he would at least have time to explore the treasure house of his memory. In many respects Rilke was a prick.
( )
  austcrimefiction | Feb 16, 2020 |
Clive James passed away last November and to honour his passing I reread his entry in Wikipedia to remind myself of what a wonderful writer ( and entertainer ) he was and then reread this delightful book of memoirs, his first of many. Thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane to a childhood in the suburbs of Sydney, where kids could go out to play , get into mischief and not come to any harm , just "come home when the streetlights come on" ( )
  lesleynicol | Feb 3, 2020 |
I just couldn't get into this book. I think it was the font that I didn't like and prevented me from getting too far into it. ( )
  Nataliec7 | Oct 31, 2016 |
One of the few skills he learned in school, noted Clive Barnes in his "Unreliable Memoirs," was how to parse a sentence, and this ability is on display in his story of growing up in Australia. Beautifully written, disarmingly funny, and more introspective than one would have expected from a forty-year-old, as the author was at the time he wrote the book. ( )
  sallysvenson | Oct 3, 2012 |
I do not usually read autobiography, but I fancied something light and humorous. This is certainly light and humorous.
I enjoyed it, and could hear James' Australian drawl throughout, but I did not enjoy it as much as The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, which does a similar thing for that author's American childhood, but with better historical detail slipped in and more reflection on the passage of time.
I was reading a Folio Society edition which was, as ever, beautiful to handle with lovely illustrations at the end of each chapter as well as some photos of Clive James and Sydney in the 1950s. ( )
  CarltonC | Jan 1, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
What accounts for Unreliable Memoirs being the best memoir in the world? And by that I mean no backhand compliment. The memoir genre has suffered an over-grown pullulating decadence of bloom in the 35 years since Clive's work was published. One need only be bitten by a shark or fondled by a stepdad to unload one's history upon the reading public. Nowadays to say "best memoir in the world" is almost to say "best fart in an elevator"...

Clive exaggerates to wonderfully honest effect. He sets to work with singular material, a combination of an exceptional young mind, an upbringing in the exotically named town of Kogarah, a pained childhood with his father, a Japanese prisoner of war, surviving only to die in a repatriation plane crash and his mother worn by worry and toil and, finally, tragedy. Then Clive, by a wild act of exaggeration, makes all this universal. He takes the yeast of his memory and plants it in the bread dough of ours.
added by SnootyBaronet | editSydney Morning Herald, P. J. O'Rourke
 

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To Rhoisin and Bruce Beresford
and the getting of wisdom
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Most first novels are disguised autobiographies.
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Gradually even the most scornful among my listeners came to accept that what Jamesie said wasn't meant to be true - only entertaining.
'Toni: A Case Study' was my first attempt at a full-length fictional work. (This book is the second.)
Perhaps because I am not even yet sufficiently at peace with myself, I have not been able to meet those standards of honesty. Nothing I have said is factual except the bits that sound like fiction.
Rilke used to say that no poet would mind going to gaol, since he would at least have time to explore the treasure house of his memory. In many respects Rilke was a prick.
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