Literary Pop: My Shit Life So Far

Author: Frankie Boyle
Nationality: British (Scottish!)
Year: 2009

So having concluded January’s theme of “published in 2015” with the ordeal that was A Brief History of Seven Killings, I was faced with the decision of what to do for February.  Being interested as I am in many areas of popular culture, I settled on “entertainment biographies” to give me a little more insight into some of the figures who rule our screens.  I happily already had a store of these to delve right into, with the intention of alternating male and female personalities (soon to become difficult).

shit lifeThe first book of the month turned out to be Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life so Far.  My mother bought this for me for a present many years ago, convinced as she is that I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy.  I started reading it at the time, but for whatever reason I stopped about half-way through and promptly forgot everything I’d read so I thought it best to start again from the beginning this time.  After fighting to the end of Seven Killings I was after a much easier read to rest my poor brain, and this was an ultimately successful mission.  Frankie Boyle, for those of you who don’t know him, is an oft-controversial comedian best known for his appearances on topical panel show “Mock the Week” and his expletive-laden rants against political correctness, the nanny state, etc. etc. (hence My Shit Life So Far).  He announced his departure from the show which made him a household name the day after the publication of this book in 2009 and has since faded into relative obscurity; such is life.

As it turns out I’m finishing this review a long time after I read the book.  I guess I’ve been busy.  Anyway, it’s pretty much a chronicle of Boyle’s life up until joining “Mock the Week”, from his moderately-poor Glasgow upbringing through the early stages of his stand-up comedy career at dingy bars and on strange tours.  It also discusses his use, abuse and subsequent disavowal of alcohol and other illicit substances along the way.  I might be forgetting some of the content but I suspect there wasn’t an awful lot more to it.

frankie-boyle-glasgow2
Frankie Boyle – Where is he now?

It’s worth a read if you know who Frankie Boyle is, if you’re a person who reads autobiographies, and if you’ve got a couple of days to spare.  I put it in my work’s book-swap box when I finished it at the beginning of February and it’s still there.  But hey, I’ve read worse.  Go figure.

 

My rating: 6/10

Literary Pop: Wolf Hall

“It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.”

Author: Hilary Mantel
Year: 2009
Nationality: British

I’ve been making an effort recently to get more in touch with some modern literature – partly because I feel I shouldn’t get too stuck in the past, and partly because recent novels seem on the whole to be more easily readable than their older counterparts.  Counterintuitively therefore I picked up Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s 650-page Booker Prize-winning epic about the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII (I’m led to believe the fall will follow in parts 2 and 3 of the trilogy).

Wolf Hall follows Cromwell on his journey from beaten blacksmith’s son to one of the most powerful men in the realm, chronicled through a number of wolfhallhistorical events, focussing on the dissolution of Henry’s first marriage (to his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon) and the installation of his new wife, Anne Boleyn, as Queen.  The tale is wrought with the current of Henry’s battle with the Roman Catholic Church, and ends with (spoilers) the execution of Thomas More, former Lord Chancellor and perennial thorn-in-the-side. (To hear this story from the other side, watch 1966’s Best Picture winner, A Man for All Seasons, in which More is the hero and Cromwell a villain (yawn)).  Through his wit, intelligence and intricate knowledge of the law, Cromwell rises through various posts to become the king’s most trusted adviser and the man to whom everyone turns to get things done.  He overcomes his association with the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey and finds himself intimately connected with the Howards and the Boleyns (because it probably seemed like a good idea at the time).  By the end of the book he has risen to an unheralded superiority in the kingdom – but what goes up, must come down…

I won’t lie, it’s not an easy read. Particularly at the start the somewhat ambiguous nature of the dialogue and the fact that roughly 70% of the men are called Thomas makes it hard to get to grips with.  The huge, ever-changing pool of characters doesn’t help, but (fortunately?) the book is long enough to give the reader ample opportunity to get used to proceedings.
Throughout the book, I gained respect and regard for Cromwell, and when I eventually get round to reading Bring Up the Bodies and the to-be-released finale it will be disappointing to read of his downfall.  This is an curious experience for me, because I’ve never really been into historical fiction before, which has the caveat that whatever the action, the end result will be the same.  I am however gaining a little insight into the genre, and it’s interesting to think (again, thinking of A Man for All Seasons) how the author of a work can spin history to favour one character or another.  Not that I’m accusing Hilary Mantel of having any political motive, of course.  I’m sure she’s not like that at all.  It also has the additional bonus of teaching me a bit about history (taken with a large pinch of salt), and I like learning.  More for me in future, I think.

 

My Rating: 8/10