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Unreliable Memoirs

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'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 meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney. '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 meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney.


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'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 meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney. '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 meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney.

30 review for Unreliable Memoirs

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    I was one of those who suggested that our book club read this, in our elaborate democratic process of choosing books from the library group reading list, but once I started in I couldn’t stand it. Given encouragement from others who said they had laughed out loud reading it, I persisted, sort of, which means that I skipped and sampled enough to a) learn more than I needed to know about Clive’s childhood and adolescence and b) could contribute to the discussion. I’ve summarised our discussion he I was one of those who suggested that our book club read this, in our elaborate democratic process of choosing books from the library group reading list, but once I started in I couldn’t stand it. Given encouragement from others who said they had laughed out loud reading it, I persisted, sort of, which means that I skipped and sampled enough to a) learn more than I needed to know about Clive’s childhood and adolescence and b) could contribute to the discussion. I’ve summarised our discussion here. It’s a very masculine book and we, a group of women over 60, are definitely not its target audience. James grew up in outer suburban Sydney, where he seems to have perpetrated a series of atrocities against neighbours and his long suffering mother. This is the world of boys growing up in Australia in the 1940s and 50s, roaming free, forming gangs (Clive seems to have led all the pranks), experimenting with sex. His views and his voice here are those of an adolescent male from the 1960s. His unembarrassed talk of children’s and teenagers’ sexual activity, juices and all, is quite startling in its facile crudity, uncomfortable to read, excruciating in places, such as his participation in group sex with the ‘town bike’. James seems devoid of empathy, with no moral compass, apparently no relationships that mattered to him, except that with himself. His mother, widowed at the end of WWII and left to bring up this challenging boy, is almost completely ignored. There’s no mention of her life, and he seems to have happily discarded her as he took off for another life at university and then England. He learned as a child to succeed through being a clown, the comic, a storyteller. He was always trying to create himself in a way to give himself self-esteem. He felt like a nonentity who had to create his own identity and then maintain it, a juvenile motor mouth who went on to make a living from being just that. The pace of his storytelling here is relentless, stories all told the same, voice and textures all the way through. Achieving a humourous tone is his main aim, but as the devices he uses are exaggeration, cruelty and humiliation, delivered as a series of hammer blows, it gets a bit wearing. James seems to have relished the humour of cruelty/humiliation, the humiliations mostly his own. He makes sure we know how smart he is, how he has risen above the world he describes here.– we remembered the Japanese TV series he presented in which young Japanese men submitted themselves to inventive types of torture in a competition to see who could endure longest. By the time he was writing this, he was in England and had had the opportunity to absorb a wider range of ideas and influences than at home, but there’s no trace of this in his writing. It's hard to believe that the same man wrote the brilliant 'Cultural Amnesia'. James deliberately conceals himself behind a screen of words, unable to come to terms with himself enough to be completely honest, as is reflected in the title. As a group read, I’ve given it 3. My own vote was 1.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    A slightly drawn out autobiography describing a boy growing into a man in Australia in the 50s. It’s mildly interesting and sporadically funny, but nowhere near as hilarious as the reviews imply. Perhaps I’m just too far removed (geographically and age wise) from the subject matter.

  3. 5 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    Really enjoyed the childhood memoir and the wonderful descriptions of post-war Australia. The other 2 books seemed to dwell on how poor, cold, and smart he was and I lost interest. +++ The above are the few words I wrote when I read this many years ago. Clive is so highly regarded, I often feel I should give him another go, but he has always irritated me for some reason. What we used to call "too clever by half". Now that he's just died, I'm sure there will be a new crop of readers, so I look forw Really enjoyed the childhood memoir and the wonderful descriptions of post-war Australia. The other 2 books seemed to dwell on how poor, cold, and smart he was and I lost interest. +++ The above are the few words I wrote when I read this many years ago. Clive is so highly regarded, I often feel I should give him another go, but he has always irritated me for some reason. What we used to call "too clever by half". Now that he's just died, I'm sure there will be a new crop of readers, so I look forward to their opinions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robbie Clark

    I first read this when I was a young teenager and it's a book I've returned to time and time again. The strength of the novel is Clive James's self deprecating humour, that has you cringing and laughing at the same time. He's fearless in recounting stories that anyone else would have happily oppressed and forgotten about. I recommend this book to everyone I know and keep having to buy myself new copies because of the one's I give away. Read it and enjoy. I first read this when I was a young teenager and it's a book I've returned to time and time again. The strength of the novel is Clive James's self deprecating humour, that has you cringing and laughing at the same time. He's fearless in recounting stories that anyone else would have happily oppressed and forgotten about. I recommend this book to everyone I know and keep having to buy myself new copies because of the one's I give away. Read it and enjoy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christiane

    I don’t normally read the introduction to a book until after I have finished it as I like to make up my own mind about what I’m reading. This time I started off with P.J. O’Rourke singing the praises of „Unreliable Memoirs“, which we‘re told is not only „every thinking persons’memoir“, „something new that no one has done before or will do again“ but „the best memoir in the world“ by „the best-read person he’s ever known“. (In order to find more things to praise, even the town name of Kogarah seem I don’t normally read the introduction to a book until after I have finished it as I like to make up my own mind about what I’m reading. This time I started off with P.J. O’Rourke singing the praises of „Unreliable Memoirs“, which we‘re told is not only „every thinking persons’memoir“, „something new that no one has done before or will do again“ but „the best memoir in the world“ by „the best-read person he’s ever known“. (In order to find more things to praise, even the town name of Kogarah seems to him wonderfully exotic.) So, my expectations were high. No doubt, these memories are very funny in places but it’s obviously a matter of one’s personal sense of humour whether one ends up falling all over the place „shrieking and snorting with laughter“ or just smiling and chuckling. What I can’t see is what is so outstanding about these reminiscences. There are his wild childish pranks and exploits but there is also an awful lot of farting, masturbation and „cock-consciousness spreading to fill the whole day“. There is him as a teenager, an outsider trying to fit in, copying those he admires and trying to find his calling which is all well and good but not exactly unique. This is a memoir by Clive James, so obviously Clive James figures prominently but to me there seems to be too much information about Clive James and too little about the time and place and people other than those who have a direct bearing on Clive James. For me he doesn’t successfully evoke Australia during and after the second world war. I would have liked to hear more about his mother, the rest of the family and Australian society as a whole. O’Rourke finds that James „exaggerates to wonderfully honest effect“, but I was really bothered by the false modesty of constantly applying negative superlatives to himself. He was always the worst, or the most insensitive, or the clumsiest or most hopeless etc. boy in the land. (The reader gets the message, of course, that he was really intellectually brilliant). And just to confirm his erudition for those of us who are not familiar with him, he throws into his memoirs lots of references to masterworks of classical literature, Roman generals, Greek mythology, philosophy etc. etc., which strikes me as kind of pompous. So, no, this wasn't the best memoir I've ever read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    MaryG2E

    I quite enjoyed this memoir from one of Australia's best loved writers, the irrepressible Clive James. Almost from the opening pages you can tell this book was written a long time ago, when the structures of books were different and chapters were long and involved multiple ideas. Even the look and feel of the book is different from today's publications - issued in 1980, the text is small and tightly packed onto the page, resulting in a book of 175 pages only. I actually found it quite hard to re I quite enjoyed this memoir from one of Australia's best loved writers, the irrepressible Clive James. Almost from the opening pages you can tell this book was written a long time ago, when the structures of books were different and chapters were long and involved multiple ideas. Even the look and feel of the book is different from today's publications - issued in 1980, the text is small and tightly packed onto the page, resulting in a book of 175 pages only. I actually found it quite hard to read because of this compressed format. James was born in 1939 and started school just as WW2 ended. His account of growing up in outer suburban, working class Sydney in the post-war era is, by parts, extremely boring and quite fascinating. He relates long tales of the antics after school and on weekends of the kids on the block, and his involvement in local social organisations like the local Cub group and the Kogarah Presbyterian church, which he attended for several years. Pretty dull, definitely dated... He is at his most intriguing when he assesses his own demeanour, attitudes and behaviours from school age to university years. He is honest about his failings, his vanities and his personal issues, which I found quite refreshing. Teenage angst is nothing new, and his reflections on his physique, sexuality and romantic encounters are wracked with uncertainty and a kind of endearing desperation. Pervading the entire volume is James' wry humour - it is not a laugh-a-minute kind of book, but there is gentle amusement and some hilarious moments, most of which are self-deprecatory. James is largely the butt of his own jokes, which I found endearing. The book continues to have validity in this era as a fairly candid examination of what it was like for a working class child growing up in suburban Australia in the 1940s and 50s.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Smiley

    Guaranteed by a bold commendation under the title on the front cover: 'Do not read this book in public. You will risk severe internal injuries from trying to suppress your laughter . . . , this memoir looked interestingly challenging to me at first sight when I came across it in the DASA Book Café a few months ago. Till early last July I decided to buy one to read after reading his Wikipedia biography. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_J...) I found reading this paperback amazingly funny and, Guaranteed by a bold commendation under the title on the front cover: 'Do not read this book in public. You will risk severe internal injuries from trying to suppress your laughter . . . , this memoir looked interestingly challenging to me at first sight when I came across it in the DASA Book Café a few months ago. Till early last July I decided to buy one to read after reading his Wikipedia biography. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_J...) I found reading this paperback amazingly funny and, in some parts, arguably incomprehensible due to my unfamiliarity with his writing style and some Australian English words. This is the second Clive James I tried and made it; the first being his impressive Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time (Picador 2007) in which I have browsed any topics I liked as part of an ongoing reading plan to amuse myself, for example, I read the topics of Anna Akhmatova, Jorge Luis Borges, and Albert Camus, to name but a few. If you have or find this 876-page book, you would know what I mean; it is rather unique because, according to its inner flap, it is "A lifetime in the making, Cultural Amnesia is the book Clive James has always wanted to write." Then, from this book we can start reading on anyone we like from his selected famous people categorized alphabetically under their family names A-Z totaling 107 and I have read 56 so far. This book has 17 chapters with curious titles, for example, 1 The Kid From Kogarah, 2 Valley of the Killer Snakers, 3 Billycart Hill, . . . 15 Very Well: Alone, 16 Fidgety Feet, 17 That He Should Leave His Home. Especially, in Chapter 14 Basic Training, I found this following extract hilarious due to his way of employing his unique way of using capital letters: His real name was Warrant Officer First Class Ronald McDonald, but he was known throughout the army as Ronnie the One. Responsible for battalion discipline, he had powers of life and death over all non-commissioned personnel and could even bring charges against officers up to the rank of Captain. . . . It was because he was always screaming so hard. At that moment he was screaming directly at me. 'GED-YAHAHCARD!' Later on a translator told me that this mean (sic) 'Get your hair cut' and could generally be taken as a friendly greeting, especially if you could still see his eyes. . . . (pp. 143-44) To continue . . .

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    James is on my short list of people I envy terribly. Brilliant, extravagantly well-read, and funny to boot. I've read his criticism but never his other nonfiction so I didn't know what to expect. Unreliable Memoirs is his affectionate book-length mockery of himself as a child and young man. From spider bites to go cart crashes, it's a wonder that his mother didn't have a nervous breakdown. "The only thing I liked about school was skipping around in circles until the music stopped, then lying dow James is on my short list of people I envy terribly. Brilliant, extravagantly well-read, and funny to boot. I've read his criticism but never his other nonfiction so I didn't know what to expect. Unreliable Memoirs is his affectionate book-length mockery of himself as a child and young man. From spider bites to go cart crashes, it's a wonder that his mother didn't have a nervous breakdown. "The only thing I liked about school was skipping around in circles until the music stopped, then lying down on the floor for Quiet Time. I was very good at Quiet Time. Otherwise it was all a bit hopeless. I piddled on the floor when it was my turn to sing." Of his IQ test results he writes, "It was the Stanford Binet, on which I score about 140…Such results are enough to put me in the 98th percentile, meaning that 97 per cent of any given population is likely to be less good at doing these tests than I am. This is nothing to boast about.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sylvester

    As with many memoirs, I lost interest in the story when Clive hit adolescence. All the funny stuff happens in childhood - and to give him credit, the whole thing was colourful and well-written enough to push me through to the end, although I admit to skimming the last few chapters. He writes well when his subject is not himself (haha, that seems like a mean remark considering this is a memoir, but his writing about the people around him, and his experiences, are what drew me on, not his introspec As with many memoirs, I lost interest in the story when Clive hit adolescence. All the funny stuff happens in childhood - and to give him credit, the whole thing was colourful and well-written enough to push me through to the end, although I admit to skimming the last few chapters. He writes well when his subject is not himself (haha, that seems like a mean remark considering this is a memoir, but his writing about the people around him, and his experiences, are what drew me on, not his introspection), and his candid prepubescent/pubescent revelations deserve an award of some kind. My brain fails me as to what. Some quotes: "But the human personality is a drama, not a monologue; sad tricks of the brain can be offset by sound feelings in the heart..." "There is nothing like staying away for bringing it with you." (speaking of having left Sydney for England and not returning for decades) "If the shark bell rang and you missed the wave, you were left out there alone beyond the third line of breakers. Every shadow had teeth." Every shadow had teeth. That might be the line I remember when I think of this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    fourtriplezed

    Read this years back. I recall really enjoying. A genuinely witty man.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John of Canada

    Clive has a wonderful way with words.Interesting history,but too much of what I thought was a little too personal.He was kind of a nasty kid.

  12. 5 out of 5

    R.K. Cowles

    3 3/4 stars

  13. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Ideiosepius

    This charmingly written, addictively funny book is the first I have read by the well known CLive James. The first in his series of memoirs he claims that they are often fictionised and highly unreliable. I have my doubts that anyone could imagine many of the events described here, so I am going to credit it with greater truth than it claims for itself. Covering James' early life, childhood, adolescence, university and national service it takes us up to the point at which James reaches England as This charmingly written, addictively funny book is the first I have read by the well known CLive James. The first in his series of memoirs he claims that they are often fictionised and highly unreliable. I have my doubts that anyone could imagine many of the events described here, so I am going to credit it with greater truth than it claims for itself. Covering James' early life, childhood, adolescence, university and national service it takes us up to the point at which James reaches England as a young man and dumps him, as it were, on the shores. Since this covers the 30's and 40's in Australia it is fascinating looking at how different life was then. The stories of sewage finally reaching the suburb and replacing the legendary 'Dunnymen' is as entertaining as the innumerable stories of how the children of that generation entertained themselves. It is a miracle that any of them survived, going by these stories. James' sounds like the prototypical Australian larriken for many of these stories and as he specialised in being the class clown for years, he has all the background to make this a very, very funny book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    I read this originally way back in the 80s and obviously thought more highly of it then. I was working for the BBC at the time in Woodstock Grove, the offices were just along the corridor from Clive Janes’ and I may have been influenced by that. This time around the distance between his young - and my old(er) self seems a bigger bridge to traverse. A good and well written account but with too many unfamiliar references for me.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nooilforpacifists

    This is an appallingly boring read from an excellent writer. I never would have finished it, nor given it three stars, had not this Volume 1 of Clive James’s autobiography gotten interesting only as he enters college. It’s a laugh riot from there on. And all too recognizable from my years of protracted adolescence and delayed learning. James, at least, began learning how to learn in his twenties. Took me a decade longer.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    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. 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gerald Sinstadt

    Clive James has always seemed a man unsure whether he was a serious academic or a wannabe comedian. These recollections of childhood through school and university in mid-Century Australia reveal the dilemma in embryo. From his early learning years James offers an account of himself as naturally gifted but inherently unenthusiastic. The selfishness of his relationship with his mother is viewed with ambivalent eyes - he did what he wanted, progressed with her support but seems to think he should h Clive James has always seemed a man unsure whether he was a serious academic or a wannabe comedian. These recollections of childhood through school and university in mid-Century Australia reveal the dilemma in embryo. From his early learning years James offers an account of himself as naturally gifted but inherently unenthusiastic. The selfishness of his relationship with his mother is viewed with ambivalent eyes - he did what he wanted, progressed with her support but seems to think he should have acted differently. The lavatorial jokes pall and the sexual history could be the story of any uncertain youth. And among all the relentless effort to be funny, what is the reader meant to make of the literary and philosophical allusions? That this gauche young Aussie has become a worldly-wise intellectual? By calling these memoirs Unreliable, James seeks to have his cake and eat it. At one point he writes, "Nothing I have said is factual except the bits that sound like fiction." So don't be critical of anything because it might all be invention anyway. Do they call that a cop-out down under?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    To me, this book is an absolute classic. There were parts where I was unable to read any further because of the tears of laughter in my eyes, but that probably prevented the more serious damage that could have resulted from reading on and laughing even more. However a great book needs more than humour, it needs to mean something, and this book addresses profound themes concerning family, love, confidence, life choices, regret and self-acceptance. I have read this book before, but I was astonishe To me, this book is an absolute classic. There were parts where I was unable to read any further because of the tears of laughter in my eyes, but that probably prevented the more serious damage that could have resulted from reading on and laughing even more. However a great book needs more than humour, it needs to mean something, and this book addresses profound themes concerning family, love, confidence, life choices, regret and self-acceptance. I have read this book before, but I was astonished to find so much that I hadn't noticed on any previous reading. The author struggles with feelings of regret and frustration about how he acted as a child and young man, but he also tries to forgive himself for those transgressions. This makes it a very compelling read and it is well served by Clive James' clear prose and perfect comic timing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Spencer Fancutt

    A frank, hilarious account of the writer's early life growing up in Sydney. James unfalteringly trapezes with grace between fart jokes and arcane literary references, poetic natural descriptions and angst-ridden teenage neuroses, in an admittedly half-fabricated journey through a youth that despite its hyperbole reveals a picture in which maybe everyone can see a part of their own childhood. Accomplished and absorbing. And very funny. A frank, hilarious account of the writer's early life growing up in Sydney. James unfalteringly trapezes with grace between fart jokes and arcane literary references, poetic natural descriptions and angst-ridden teenage neuroses, in an admittedly half-fabricated journey through a youth that despite its hyperbole reveals a picture in which maybe everyone can see a part of their own childhood. Accomplished and absorbing. And very funny.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

    James' memoir about growing up in Australia is often riotously funny -- worth reading for those passages alone. But to my eye, he sidesteps some of the deeper material he could've explored, including his relationship with his widowed mother. That lack makes the book a series of humorous childish adventures, but something less than it could have been in the hands of a writer as brilliant as James. James' memoir about growing up in Australia is often riotously funny -- worth reading for those passages alone. But to my eye, he sidesteps some of the deeper material he could've explored, including his relationship with his widowed mother. That lack makes the book a series of humorous childish adventures, but something less than it could have been in the hands of a writer as brilliant as James.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    James can really write, and he is - of course - funny. He can be a bit hard on himself at times (probably with good reason) although difficult to know how much has been changed to protect people. Probably bad idea to read the whole book, which is a compendium of 3 books, all in one go; should've read other books between each. Now I need to track down and read everything else he has written. James can really write, and he is - of course - funny. He can be a bit hard on himself at times (probably with good reason) although difficult to know how much has been changed to protect people. Probably bad idea to read the whole book, which is a compendium of 3 books, all in one go; should've read other books between each. Now I need to track down and read everything else he has written.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Suzy Maher

    Possibly my favorite book of all time. Beautifully written, I heard Clive James' voice throughout the entire book. Possibly my favorite book of all time. Beautifully written, I heard Clive James' voice throughout the entire book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This book could have been subtitled "The Story of an Australian Penis" because a solid three-quarters of the book is focused rather narrowly on James' pre-pubescent and adolescent sex life. I was rather annoyed by this and also by James' alternately self-pitying and self-chastising tone. I also hated his rather inelegant way of ending nearly every paragraph with some high-minded literary allusion or another. However, despite these shortcomings I plowed through the book quickly and enthusiastical This book could have been subtitled "The Story of an Australian Penis" because a solid three-quarters of the book is focused rather narrowly on James' pre-pubescent and adolescent sex life. I was rather annoyed by this and also by James' alternately self-pitying and self-chastising tone. I also hated his rather inelegant way of ending nearly every paragraph with some high-minded literary allusion or another. However, despite these shortcomings I plowed through the book quickly and enthusiastically. For all his faults, James is a gifted humorist and he knows how to add just enough detail to make a scene vivid without weighing it down with description. At certain points I felt I could smell the Australian soil, which was remarkable. So, even though it occasionally drove me crazy I have to confess that I really liked this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Gates

    Clive James has in recent years been serialising his struggles with leukaemia in a series he calls ‘Reports of My Death’, which such headlines as ‘My new wheelchair is a thing of beauty and precision’. This is Clive James to a T: beautiful phrasing, unending humour, and the temerity to put himself at the centre of every phase of his life, and assume that interest will follow. It does, because his sentences are that good. http://gatesyread.blogspot.com/2018/1... Clive James has in recent years been serialising his struggles with leukaemia in a series he calls ‘Reports of My Death’, which such headlines as ‘My new wheelchair is a thing of beauty and precision’. This is Clive James to a T: beautiful phrasing, unending humour, and the temerity to put himself at the centre of every phase of his life, and assume that interest will follow. It does, because his sentences are that good. http://gatesyread.blogspot.com/2018/1...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Reading this reminded me of how much I enjoyed the television reviews written by Clive James in The Observer newspaper many years ago. I love his sense of humour, and it really doesn't matter whether the events described are fact or fiction. Reading this reminded me of how much I enjoyed the television reviews written by Clive James in The Observer newspaper many years ago. I love his sense of humour, and it really doesn't matter whether the events described are fact or fiction.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    After Clive James died, I figured it was time for me to read his autobiographical sometimes-fiction Unreliable Memoirs collection. Here, there's three books under one title, which is bad news for my Goodreads challenge numbers but pretty good in terms of entertaining stories per book. It can safely be assumed that any writer who gives you a record of his own life is nuts about himself. It's a little strange to refer to these works as autobiographical when almost all of James's work features a cer After Clive James died, I figured it was time for me to read his autobiographical sometimes-fiction Unreliable Memoirs collection. Here, there's three books under one title, which is bad news for my Goodreads challenge numbers but pretty good in terms of entertaining stories per book. It can safely be assumed that any writer who gives you a record of his own life is nuts about himself. It's a little strange to refer to these works as autobiographical when almost all of James's work features a certain level of autobiography. His travel writing, his television reviewing, his poetry – all these things feature a level of personal revelation and engagement, because in all his work James presents places and experiences through the lens of himself. Where this collection differs however is that there's elements that have been fictionalised. Not changed, not exactly – but maybe one character stands in for a number of others. Stuff has been buffed in order to be more palatable. As the author says in the introduction, while most first novels are disguised autobiographies, this autobiography is a disguised novel. Unreliable Memoirs, the first of the three books here, was first published in 1979 and was one of those books I remember hanging about home when I grew up. Not so much because James was a big cheese overseas in the days when that was a remarkable achievement (though that was true) but because his book captured something of the wildness of growing up in the 1950s. Part of the appeal of this book is that while my parents could look at it and see parts of their experience reflected, I could read it and see parts of mine too. The movie-trip lollies, the heat of the summer. The carelessness with which children treat their parents, and the desperation with which they want their peers to like them. It's all in there. And fuck it, it's nice to go back sometimes, to feel that twin pull of delight and pain that come from regarding the past; a place we can never again reach except through the window of memory. The first book contains a huge amount of possibility. As we transfer into secondary education and university life – a lot of the descriptions of Sydney University hadn't changed from James's stint to mine – the drive to do something, largely because James is thrust into a world he'd never expected to be in, becomes apparent. What will it be? Fuck knows. But the temptations of opportunities is enormous. The following two books, Falling Towards England and May Week Was In June cover the author's journey to England, to a series of catastrophic jobs and even worse flats, but also to his discovery of Europe, of culture, and of university life with the Footlights crew. Poet, writer, man-about-campus. Hanger-out with Germaine Greer, Eric Idle and such. They're not as immediately engaging as the initial book, but there's enough here to keep anyone with an interest in 1960s culture on board. (I learned a lot more about the author's wanking and vomiting habits than I ever needed to know, though. And, a fair bit about how to treat your girlfriend horribly.) I've seen a fair few comments that indicate that James is full of himself. I don't know that this is anything near a surprise, though: it's pretty obvious throughout the text that the author has a pretty good regard for his own learning. However, it's a bit much to suggest that he's unaware of how he comes over. He's someone who went to university thanks to a grant due to a father killed in WW2, rather than by dint of his own intellect: the twin motivations of impostor syndrome and the infectiousness of learning are never far away. Having a character that consists mainly of defects, I try to correct them one by one, but there are limits to the altitude that can be attained by hauling on one’s own bootstraps. Much like Morrissey's autobiography, James's writings are full of perilously small self-regard. This seems at odds with his boorish, seemingly confident (and yes, of-the-time to a certain extent, though this excuses none of his romantic shitbaggery) behaviour, but extraverts are often the most self-lacerating. You could heap shit on the guy, but it's fairly clear that throughout – particularly in the writings bookending this collection of works – that he is exactly aware of all his failings, and of the horrors his younger self visited on others. The thing that came across for me was an almost neurotic self-criticism, a consistent playing-down of any attractiveness, and an increasing of his faults. Indeed, this was James's stock-in-trade – for very few of his TV audience can he ever be remembered as something other than a wildly grinning, sometimes sweating bald fat bloke who seems to struggle against laughing at his own jokes. I rather liked the idea of being thought of as a shit – a common conceit among those who don’t realize just how shitty they really are … Excessive conceit and deficient self-esteem are often aspects of each other. And yet there's the turn of phrase. That wonderful turn of phrase. Honed by an omnivorous consumption of everything except the texts his university courses required him to read. The sort of wit developed to combat shyness, sharpened by a finishing of travel and languages learned through painstaking word-level reads of books in the original. The sort of wryness that, when it strikes home, makes a point the more personal because the reader feels something. The sense of a being in the making. One can be a prick – and at various points, James is one (and would not argue with the nomenclature) – and still write wonderfully. Hell, throw a rock and hit a poet. 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. In the end, if you're familiar with James and find his writing engaging, you'll be into this. If you're Australian, or are interested in that whole Push group that shunted off overseas to make their names – Humphries, Greer, Hughes et al – then there'll be something in here for you. For me, a fellow arts grad with a self-esteem problem decades in the making, I found a great – though not untroubling – read from someone who felt a bit like a kindred spirit, in some respects. But what kept me there was the voice. When a writer strikes upon the most apt phrase, there's fewer things more delightful, and James hits the target a lot more than most.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adam Johnson

    will make you laugh out loud on the train, very funny, very much worth a read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I would rate this among the wittiest books ever written in English. I've bonded with strangers over tales of James's visits to the cinema and billycart suicide-run. I would rate this among the wittiest books ever written in English. I've bonded with strangers over tales of James's visits to the cinema and billycart suicide-run.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle

    Clive James is so wonderfully irreverent, an intellectual with a larikin heart. A delightful read!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Miranda Kate

    I always enjoyed Clive James whenever he was on telly. He was interesting and funny. I liked the way he spoke, I like his rambling, overwordy, slightly humorous style, and it translates well into this book. I could hear his voice saying it all as though he was reading it to me. This book was first published in 1980 and it does feel dated. It only covers the years up until he left Australia to go to the UK. It is chock full of anecdotes from his birthday until the end of his university years. Some I always enjoyed Clive James whenever he was on telly. He was interesting and funny. I liked the way he spoke, I like his rambling, overwordy, slightly humorous style, and it translates well into this book. I could hear his voice saying it all as though he was reading it to me. This book was first published in 1980 and it does feel dated. It only covers the years up until he left Australia to go to the UK. It is chock full of anecdotes from his birthday until the end of his university years. Some of it is interesting, some of it is less so, and there are a LOT of reference to people and literature I don't know, which got difficult at times. As I personally have a love of Australia (and spent a year there) it helped with understanding some of it. It is very Australian in that it is no holds barred, meaning it gets explicit when talking about puberty and teenage sexual activity. It also runs into too much detail about sporting activities at school and other events, which I couldn't decide were just his rambling way or book filler. At some points in the book I wondered what was the relevance of some of the detail, and at other points I was fascinated. But overall I was glad I read it.

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