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What made Janet Street Porter the way she is?
This book is her account of her childhood and teens, leading up to her career in the media. She starts with dissecting her parents, trying to work out who they were before they married and had two daughters. The first part of the book is spent establishing the personalities and marriage of her parents, whom as a child she preferred to imagine as adoptive parents rather than her real ones.
Some of the setting is 1950s Fulham and some is Wales, as much of their holidays are spent with JSP's granny. It is a childhood ruled by strange moral codes and what the neighbours might think; when Janet falls ill as a child, her illness is concealed as if something shameful, to the point of sneaking her into an ambulance.
As she becomes a teenager, her intelligence begins to bring rewards but is accompanied by a developing ambition and sense of entitlement that drives her on. Her relationship with her family deteriorates and it becomes plain it won't be long before she casts them off to pursue a very different sort of life.
JSP's depiction of working class life in Fulham and Wales in the fifties was well-done; she manages to bring her childhood environment to life. The book also features a number of black and white photos from JSP's childhood, which were quite interesting if sometimes grainy and blurry (as to be expected from family snap-shots of that time).
The tone of the book very much fits with her personality (as seen on tv), her voice is very clear. It was darkly funny at times, such as when her younger sister develops breasts first and this gives her licence, the right even, to attack her.
JSP is abrasive and unsympathetic for much of this book: she seems to pull few punches. She appears to be very honest about her life, as if daring the reader to criticise her choices or perhaps oblivious that they could even be criticised. Her attitude to sex as a young woman, where she had two abortions and rarely used contraception, may upset and annoy some people. She is a controversial figure, who seems very much to have followed her own path, not deflected by other people's feelings. She appears to be very confident that she was in the right and is unapologetic about that. From a reader's perspective, she doesn't necessarily take you along with her when it comes to her opinion of her family.
She also swears quite a bit in this book, which won't surprise anyone interested in her, but may be objectionable to some readers.
Sometimes, particularly towards the end where JSP was beginning to mix with high-flying artists and media-types, it read a bit like a list of famous/talented people she has met. But I guess it's part of her life that would look like name-dropping however she wrote it, so barefacedly is as good a way as any.
When I finished reading this book, I felt that I'd be interested to read more about her, find out whether she has softened at all in her attitude to her family (or anything at all!) over the years. I shall probably pick up her other memoirs, should I come across them.
I thought this book was an interesting read, although it's certainly not going to rehabilitate JSP's character for her detractors. The paperback edition is available through Amazon, used, for a shiny penny! I borrowed my copy from the library.
(A version of this review appears elsewhere under this user-name, but has been much expanded and beautified for DooYoo). Thanks for reading.
Product details (as available on Amazon):
* Paperback: 288 pages
* Publisher: Headline (3 Jan 2005)
* Language English
* ISBN-10: 075531266X
* ISBN-13: 978-0755312665
* Product Dimensions: 19 x 13 x 2.6 cm
This is a review of Baggage, my childhood by Janet Street-Porter the famous TV presenter and journalist. Whilst I wouldn't say I was a fan of JSP, I was intrigued to hear her voice through a book and see if she really is like she appears when you see her on TV.
The book describes Janet's parents and grandparents in the beginning, how they met and what secrets they had that they kept from their children. Her relationship with her parents is iffy to start with but it seems they just didn't understand Janet.
As she grew up she was a whizz at school and most subjects (apart from Latin) came easily to her. She was popular with the boys and used her long and lean frame to dress in the latest 60s fashions. Alongside her passion for fashion and talent as a seamstress, Janet studied architecture at University. Again, she was popular with the boys having a stream of unserious relationships which often overhung each other without a start and end point!
Some of the book is quite serious and harsh, Janet has two abortions and states she doesn't really like children but was quite unconcerned about finding and using contraception and 'risked it' frequently. I found this quite hard to swallow even though it's fair to say she is frank and honest in her account.
My favourite bit in the book is where Janet describes pushing her younger sister down the stairs for "getting tits first" (before her) ~ her jealousy towards her sister is quite amusing.
Through the book there are a number of pictures but some are poor in quality and hard to interpret. At the back of the book an index explains who and what's on the pictures but I didn't come to this until the end so stupidly ended up guessing who was on the pictures (I should have known better being a keen reader).
Usually in biographies, the middle pages are pictures and glossy and the rest are normal matte pages but all the pages in this hardback book were glossy and the words well spaced out. This meant it took me about 15 seconds to read each page and when turned they felt thick so I thought I had turned an extra page. Quite annoying really. I would prefer matte pages but I'm not sure whey they were all gloss.
You can see from reading this book that Janet has cut herself off from all her family following endless holidays in Wales and finding her family quite dreary. She states that she wanted fame and fortune for herself and enjoyed living outside London and travelling to the centre often to be with her friends, the trendy set. I also found out she had been cast in a number of 60s films for her on trend look and just had to hang around looking cool.
On a holiday in Jersey, Janet and her friend got tickets to see the Beatles and saw them driving around in her car. She was completely star struck and this shows underneath she really is quite real and normal I think!
Overall I'm sorry to say I didn't really get into this book, and I'm not desperate to recommend it to a friend to read like I am when I have enjoyed something. I found a lot of it quite boring although I am now a useless font of knowledge about JSP and her upbringing. Did you know she was a keen mod? Thought not! All well and good but perhaps the key here is to stick to reading books about those you admire and like!
My book is available on Read it swap it if anyone fancies a swapsie. Not sure I've sold it to you in this review though!!