It is a rare individual who warrants multiple volumes of autobiography – Stephen Fry joins the heady society of Russell Brand and Chris Moyles in such a belief. Whereas Moab is My Washpot
covers his childhood years – growing up, family life, schools, getting thrown out of schools, and ending up in prison – The Fry Chronicles
tells of the later years – teaching, Cambridge, drama clubs, relationships, The Fringe, and so on, through to his success as playwright, columnist, actor and comedian.
This volume begins with an explanation of Stephen's addictive personality. We are introduced to his addictions to Sugar Puffs, sweets, cigarettes, coffee, in fact he appears to be able to become addicted to almost anything beginning with C (C12H22O11 is used to refer to all sugars generically and candy is also used for sweets). Obviously, the additional addictions to computers (the purchase of) and the implied addiction to another C substance come later; but disappointingly I was waiting with bated breath for his admission of debasing addictions to eating cabbage and chicken, visits to Cairo and dressing up as Chewbacca, none of which get even a mention. Strangely, not only does Stephen only seem to become addicted to things that begin with the letter C, but the letter seems to be the compass of his entire life. The book is broken into two halves: College to Colleague and Comedy. These two sections are further broken down into a number of sub-chapters each of which begins with the letter C. He's addicted to the use of the letter C apparently. The reason for this alliteration is never explained, nor is its existence ever referred to. Very strange indeed.
As you'd expect for Stephen, and indeed for almost any autobiography, the book is self-indulgent. We are treated to repeated sections describing his borderline self-loathing, his lack of self-belief and his need to continuously seek acceptance from others. His continual name dropping throughout the book is presumably part of that. We're supposed to be, not exactly impressed, but slightly 'wowed' that Stephen knows all these people as friends. Mostly because Stephen himself is 'wowed' by them himself. That said, his life does read a lot like a who's who of modern comedians, actors, writers, luvvies etc. There doesn't seem to be many people he hasn't met or worked with. Having really only come to him during his time on Saturday Live, and later A Bit of Fry and Laurie, the amount of work he appears to have generated prior to this staggered me. I thought I was a reasonably early fan, but was in fact quite late to the party.
This second volume feels a lot slicker and more grown up than the previous one – as it should – but that's also it's weakness. It's not as raw or revealing. Stephen seems a lot more comfortable with this part of his history than the earlier sections, and the book frequently risks falling into a stream of self-indulgent name dropping. There were some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments – I snorted loudly a couple of times which disconcerted a number of fellow passengers – but it's Stephen Fry dammit, he's a national treasure or institution or whatever, we love him both because and in spite of what he is.