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Written in 1997 - Afterword written in Norfolk, August 1997
Duration: 434 pages
"I wished that EM Forster's obituary of the art critic Roger Fry in 1934 (no relation as far as I know) could be mine....I can't think of a better encomium."
Whenever I pick up a biography I gauge its width and look for the thin white stripes which inform me of where the pictures live. I open up the white pages and there I see Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie playing chess at Cambridge in 1980, staged term efforts at Cundall Manor School, getting friendly with a cheeky primate, and a court sitting entering the Register of Magistrates, listing a theft of a wrist watch of the value of £9.70; standard musings. I paid two pounds for a good pry into the life of Fry.
"I get an urge, like a pregnant elephant, to go away and give birth to a book."
For those who follow Fry's tweeting or view YouTube Fry snips of TV show 'QI,' you'll learn quickly Fry appeared on the TV show University Challenge, representing Queens College Cambridge in 1980. A young Fry with a Beatle mullet resembles a News anchorman. In 'Moab is my washpot' he sings off Queens representatives' names like a school register: 'Barber, Botterill, Fry and Lester' all in alphabetical order, of course - just as he can recite his twelve school houses assuming every Old Upping-Hamian can - he does so with a bourgeoisie satisfaction. The Houses' names mean something to Fry 'Fircroft' was his. Each of them significantly bigger than the manor homes the pupils originally lived - accommodating fifty pubescent boys doing everything unimaginable such as; washing, ironing ties, polishing shoes, bargaining for storage space, a House dining room, and all the facilities that accompanies with preparing the elite for impending man-hood. Obviously, each House had a unique reputation for 'queering and tarting,' for being 'messy and ill-behaved' and for being 'intellectually challenged.' One of the Houses called 'West Bank' no need for prizes for guessing its nick-name; had an old-school Master who 'spitted and thrashed like an engine.' Fry marvelled at the man known as Abbott who managed to define abject fear. A whimsical comment is never too faraway because once Abbott stopped teaching Latin, notably Horace when a pigeon flew onto an open window-ledge, Abbott stopped and stared at the feathered beast, and no-one did dared said a word. After three long minutes, the pigeon flew off and Abbott exclaimed: "I'm not paid, to teach pigeons!" Eccentricities fester in the belligerent master. Where discipline rules tomorrow's rulers, where elitism and hierarchies is fed into the boy's spongy grey matter, by the shovel load. 'Moab is my washpot;' is Fry's school stage set. Indeed, resonance of Richmal Crompton's; 'William series' from the 1920s - excluding Fry's fondest for beatings, curious eroticisms of the Oscar Wilde kind and other revilements. Quite the norm as expressed in Christopher Hitchens memoir called; 'Hitch 22.' Proof that young elitism gauges whether you are a straight gay, or gay: variations of gayness, or shall I say Fry's favourable term "queer." Much of the euphemisms orbited me without landing - Fry might as well have quipped: "I developed a taste for tea one term..... " And? I re-read it looking for a punch-line between the lines, yet failed to grasp its significance - I put it down to Fry's schoolboy restricted code; a language that only a fellow 'Fircroft' resident would guffaw uncontrollably. This lured me to believe that the 'Moab is my washpot' has an audience - and I wasn't invited.
'Letters to encourage a new boy,' kept from a school magazine article could've been written at the dawn of the twentieth century: "It is very nice here because if you are in the country you have no-one to play with, though at Scouts hill there are lots of boys. In the summer there are lots of swimming and boating and there is a half term holiday after the sports. If you are quite young you will go into the small form where you have potty work. We play Latin Football on Saturday which is great fun." What amazed me was Fry kept this school memorabilia not only that he could recite what each master said in the article by memory. He recounts his inner trepidation of going into a 'small form having potty work' - not that such work was required, however it put the willies up him. Notably the evidence of a vast hunger for trivia, this is not taught but a Fry-ism - it is self made, an 'ism' that has endeared his followers and public alike - in turn Fry suckles on the 'bosom of societal popularity' rather than celebrity alone - celebrity, in reality is intellectually inferior to Fry's diverse and bulging intellect. Although in 'Nature classes' Fry observed rather than excelled in: cue list...In 'PE classes' Fry observed rather than excelled in: cue list... Fry didn't exactly run an accolade mockery; except for liking the sound of his broken vocal tones. Fry's characteristic witticisms were being honed and polished - on trial, played to a bellicose audience. Comics have that tendency to mask what was beneath with timed quips, one-liners and in Fry's case, anecdotal poetic wit and charm of radio dramatist; Giles Cooper who tragically perished by jumping off a train in 1966. Like most comics the mask slips off momentarily and there before you is not a 'comedian who can jest better than the rest' but a fragile shell. 'Boarding School' was the catalyst to Fry's 'black dog' - a term dear Winston Churchill used while oppressed with depression - although the tame canine caricature is timid in comparison to Fry's bipolar disorder, which hit the media tide two years prior of 'Moab's' publication -Cleansing being the purpose, stroke ultimate challenge - As if to exhume the self-disgust, repulsion of a pubescent freak.
Fry recalls a 'Star Trek' episode which ended with Jim turning to McCoy and saying: 'Out there Bones, someone is saying the three most beautiful words in the galaxy.' Fry was transfixed and expected the obvious, 'I love you.' Instead Kirk gazed up at the stars and whispered: 'Please, help me.' An incredible potent message on a cheap cardboard stage set. Tears were blamed on hay fever; the glorious summer of 76' engineered the potential that got Fry to Queens Cambridge. Disgrace follows him, albeit morphed into witticism and self degradation. He was laughing at Fry in the third entity, his audience was laughing with Fry, his worse enemy. David Copperfield's opening lines depicts the 'Moab' perfectly:' whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that situation will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.'
Afraid what 'Moab' may bring; he ends off by being mercilessly polite in his usual 'stephenesque' style, he says, 'sorry.'
Enjoyable biography, from a British treasure - Recommended.
I have always liked Stephen Fry and was interested in reading his autobiography. I started it a number of years ago, but with one thing and another did not finish it. Last month I picked it up again and finished it this time.
As expected it was very honest and he makes no excuses for the mistakes he made when he was younger and seems to fully accept the prison sentence he served for misuse of a couple of credit cards. Some of the things he experienced would be considered unusual today but not so very out of place for someone from his background and for the time. His seems to have always felt an outsider or at least that is what comes across. He talks of his suicide attempt - hope that is not a spoiler for anyone but it is something that is talked about quite a bit when he is interviewed.
It covers a large period of his early life, as there is not a great deal of his earliest years but really begins when he starts prep school. From the beginning I knew I was going to finish it this time as it was so easy to get involved in his few early memories even if they were a little drawn out.
Having read about his early days at school it is easy to understand how he ended up where he did - both in terms of the problems he had and his eventual success. I was a little worried that it would be written in the sort of language he uses in QI and to some extent this is the case. It seems open and honest and if anything I liked him even more by the end.
There are no punches pulled and at times I felt he may have been writing as a form of therapy as he puts so much detail into certain sections and as well as the honesty there is a lot of humour but that was something I expected.
He clearly has always been an intelligent and able person, and the book gives an insight into his past that I am sure few other celebrities would allow us to have. Examples of his confidence is his place on the Norfolk Board of Censors at the age of 17 making decisions as to what people much older and more experienced than him can or cannot watch.
I never understood the title in the context of the book as Moab was a one-time challenger to Israel in Biblical times but fell so far that they were described as a washpot. At the time this would be something used to wash peoples feet so there must be something in his logic - maybe washing away things from the past.
There are times when I found the words he used a little hard to follow and very flowery but that did not stop me reading it. I just thought of many interviews I have seen and it is in keeping with them.
I paid £8.99 when I bought it but that was about 17 years ago so it is much cheaper now.
This book details roughly the first twenty years of the life of Stephen Fry, told by the man himself, and wrapped up in wonderful words. It is incredibly readable, though I did occasionally have to reach for the dictionary. It is very much a book that assumes you are a similarly intelligent person, and if you can't keep up, it's just too bad. I quite like that, though. When so many books are written to sell, not to be brilliant, and Jordan is a best-selling novelist, it really is nice to have a book of this nature that doesn't feel like it's talking down to you.
All areas of his life are discussed in an open and engaging way, from his addiction to sweets at school to the first boy he ever kissed. It's all here, and in such an honest way. I very much enjoyed reading it. We all have these moments in childhood or from our teenage years which we regret, only most of us don't talk about them these days, and so they stay locked off forever. It is these moments that Fry writes about so perfectly that made me fall in love with this book, and have more respect for the man himself.
My absolute favourite part was where he runs away to London. I won't ruin it, as it really is a fascinating section, but it may change the way you see the man. It is, as many reviews have already put it, exceptionally candid. Occasionally, I suppose, it could be a little too honest for those that like to see their celebrities up on a pedestal. However, I loved finding out about this section of his life, which is rarely talked about in the press because he seems so distinguished these days.
The only theoretical negative aspect to this book is that you really do have to be a Stephen Fry fan to enjoy it. While that might go without saying, it is also worth noting that there is very little in the book that isn't to do directly with his life. That is to say it is incredibly anecdotal, with very little in the way of contemporary musing on life, the universe and everything. It isn't just a book that Stephen Fry has written, it simply is a detailed explanation of the first twenty years of his life, and if that doesn't interest you, then you won't like anything about this book. I, however, loved it, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in Stephen Fry, or anyone who loves a bit of wordy self-aware pomposity.
Stephen Fry is a British comedian, actor, television and radio presenter and author.
He first gained recognition in the 80s and 90s on shows such as Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, with his comedy partner Hugh Laurie (who is now an international superstar thanks to playing the lead role in US medical drama House).
You will now most likely find him on BBC2 or Dave presenting Q.I., a quiz show with guest panellists such as Bill Bailey, Jo Brand and Alan Davies, and you will hear him on Radio 4 presenting his own programmes, like 'Fry's English Delights.'
I've known about him for years but only really started to take notice of him after seeing him play Oscar Wilde in the biopic 'Wilde.' His performance was so convincing and romantic, I don't think they could have picked a better man to play Oscar Wilde if they tried.
Since then I have watched him on Q.I. and read several of his books; the best in my opinion being 'The Stars' Tennis Balls'.
It was during this period of writing these books that Fry published his autobiography, 'Moab is my Washpot', in 1997.
The book chronicles the first twenty years of his life from early life in Norfolk with his rich parents and older brother, to public school then secondary school and falling in love for the first time, and then his stay at a Young Offender's Institution near Bristol. The book is split into four parts, 'Joining In', 'Falling In', 'Breaking Out' and 'Catching Up' to separate the different stages in his early years.
This book is every bit as well-written and well-researched as Fry's novels. I say well-researched because in order to remember events and names from his childhood, Fry had to contact various people from his past, inluding former public school teachers.
He tells his story with his usual flair, romanticism, wit and exquisite prose, but it is a brutally honest account of his life. Some of it is sad, heartbreaking, other parts of it are disturbing but a lot of it is so funny that I very often laughed out loud whilst reading it.
Even if you haven't read this book you might have a vague awareness that Fry's behaviour as a child was challenging, and that's putting it mildly. I didn't realise just how horrible and nasty he was until I read this book. He describes in detail how he stole sweets from a respectable teacher's office and then manipulated a timid younger boy into taking the blame. He also tells how as a young man he stole the credit cards of friends of his parents who were kind enough to let him stay with them, and went on outrageous shopping sprees.
He describes his privileged upbringing, the staff that his parents employed including gardners, growing up in a quaint English village.
If it wasn't for the kind, intelligent, funny and generous man we know him for today (and his stint in a YOI) I would probably detest him, being an honest working-class girl myself. The book really does show him in a bad light.
However you forgive him because of such gems as his description of his hatred of sports at school:
"Yeugh! The squeak of rubber soles on sports hall floors, the rank stench of newly leaking testosterone, the crunch of cinder racing tracks, the ugly, dead thump of a rugger ball taking a second later than the ugly, dead sight of it hitting the hard mud as you sullenly watched the match, the clatter of hockey sticks, the scrape of studded boots on pavilion floors, the puke-sweet smell of linseed oil, 'Litesome' jock-straps, shin-guards, disgusting leather caps worn in scrums, boots, shorts, socks, laces, the hiss and steam of the showers."
The book isn't just about Fry's life; he also writes about his opinions on many things such as sport, music, corporal punishment, literature, sexuality and philosophy, and with his usual brilliant articulation and wit.
This book provides a great insight into the early life of Stephen Fry and indeed an insight into the inspiration for his novels. He points out himself that he actually borrowed extracts from his novel 'The Liar' and put them in his autobiography, because they were describing his own life anyway.
This was an enjoyable read and I can't wait for another autobiography from him, describing the next twenty years of his life!
Published by Arrow Books in 1997
I have long been a fan of Stephen Fry, I find him a charming man, and whilst some of his televisual exploits have been not to my taste (Kingdom, his America series) I do enjoy him in QI and I find him a charming host. Most of all, however, I liked his BBC2 documentary miniseries 'The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive'. This gave a great insight into Stephen the man, touched upon his past, and covered his rationale behind his mental illness.
So, with that interest sparked I purchased Moab is My Washpot for the princely sum of £3 from HMV in paperback. A fine price. It covers his life from his first memories to around about his eighteenth year - so if you're expecting tales of showbiz, you'd be sorely disappointed!
Stephen was born into a 1950s idyll, good food, good company and excellent schooling. The book charts his time in a variety of boarding and day schools and the trouble he managed to get himself into (being arrested and spending time in a youth offenders institute) and his early realisations of his sexuality and his first, unrequited love. It explains his passion and interest for literature, cricket, theatre and creativity.
The reason I won't give the book more stars than 3/5 is that despite Stephen's obvious intellect the book isn't the most well written autobiography I've ever encountered nor is it the most engaging. It's interesting, but it's not a book I see myself picking up and re-reading, like I do with my favourite books. He has a propensity to labour some points somewhat; rolling charmingly from point to point whilst never really explaining himself satisfactorily. He revels in his status as a genius in the media but I question whether this is entirely accurate - he was very poor academically and wrote appalling poetry - admittedly (and without wanting to spoil the book) hard work eventually paid dividends, but he certainly isn't what I'd class as a genius, preserving that handle for someone who has made an intellectual breakthrough. I do think he is well read and that does come across, but to his detriment he does name-drop authors, creatives and the like as if the reader cannot possibly be as intelligent as (or moreso) than the author. For example, he can't just say 'with the whizzing cars, I felt like I was in some sort of Metropolis' he has to say 'Fritz Lang Metropolis'. Now, any media student will have studied Fritz Lang, and anyone who may not possibly get the reference will either skim over it or wikipedia it. I don't like how Stephen almost patronisingly needs to explain his references to make clear his worldly, well-read points. It sort of dilutes it, actually. He does it countless times and it gets a bit grating.
All in all it's an interesting book for Fry fans and certainly gives a good insight into his world, his past (for those who have watched the mental health documentaries) and his not-so-humble beginnings. I can't say I'd overtly recommend the book but if a friend wanted to read it I would say it was worthwhile.
There are some books, both fiction and non, that I've finished and thought 'wow. That was great' and put aside to re-read in a year or so. I put down Moab is My Washpot and thought 'hmmm. I'm glad that's done' and I'm very unlikely to re-read it. I can't say I'd jump if he picked up from where he left off in another book either - in fact this book being the first Fry I have read, has put me off reading his fictional attempts.
I am a big fan of celebrity autobiographies, but only of those who actually have something to tell (no Chantelles or Jodies for me, thankyouverymuch). Stephen Fry is a man who has captured the hearts of the nation over the past five years and there is nothing the man can do wrong. From his outstanding presenting on QI to his travel diaries on his 'Across America' series.
Those who know Fry from these shows will know that he is an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable man with a great sense of humour and lust for learning. Those who know him from Fry and Laurie will know that he has great comic timing and writing ability. What Moab does is show that Fry was a very different person when he was growing up. His amazing intelligence seemed to him to be more of a hinderance apart from when he was masterminding his next crime.
Moab is Fry's own story of how he started in life and takes the reader all the way to his early twenties. His Jewishness, his sexuality, his intelligence and his upper-class background are all discussed and self-analysed openly and the reader feels that they get to know Fry really well throughout. Everything from his first sexual experience to his petty thievery (and then more serious theft crimes) are addressed and Fry makes it clear throughout that what he is relating is only being told as well as he can remember it, and that there may be some inaccuracies which can be blamed on the passing of time. However, one gets the feeling that most of it is pretty accurate and in some ways his roguish, criminal ways make the man even more endearing now.
Some of this makes for uncomfortable reading but on the whole it is throughly enjoyable and gives a great insight into the youthful mind of the Nation's favourite. I do not believe you have to be a fan of celeb autobiographies to be able to ejoy this book as it is not in any way about the 'celebrity' aspect of his life, but I do think that being aware of Fry in some capacity makes the book feel more personal.
Now, the more observant of you will know the man in the dooyoo pic (look up and left...) is not the articulate and rather wordy homosexual that bought us the brilliant Fry & Laurie and Blackadder TV series but Barry Fry, the rotund and gobby Peterborough FC manager, the latter neither of the above (and owner of the only entertaining autobiography here). But as Bazza knows what a wash pot is and Stephen Fry, a Moab, we may as well call it quits and crash on...
Stephen Fry is one of those reluctant stars that have been born with a big talent that the public demands, and of which he makes a nice living off, but suffers terrible over the bag of flesh and bones he sees in the mirror that has to drag it around. Tracey Emin and Amy Winehouse share that same sort of conflict, people who don't like seeing their ugly mugs on TV and in magazines, a flawed beauty that doesn't fit with their celebrity, resulting in their art being self-deprecating and their downfall very public, as is Emins dreadful modern art and Fry's rather self-indulgent and somewhat therapeutic autobiography here. This type of star can't really grasp the fact that they are more famous than those insular vacuous celebrities because, unlike the big brother winner, they have a genuine blue-chip talent that doesn't demand they be gorgeous, slim and able to revel in being stupid to make more money, and that means they may look like normal people, not famous for just their image. They have to back it up with genius and that means pressure. I think that's the contradiction here and why these guys self-destruct the way they do. Fry continual puts himself down in the book and I think it's those imperfections in the likes of Fry, Emin and horse face Winehouse that will eventually destroy them. Emin has a great figure that's 'corked' by this grotesque head, her face seemingly snared by a meat hook! I think that really irritates them. Why do I have these imperfections like normal people? The other school of thought is they push their talent to spite those imperfections.
When you read about celebs that interest you in life you want to know about how and why they got to be famous and what its like. You also want the dirt and info on other celebs they mix with, the inside track that others that don't read don't get to hear about. It's a kind of trade off between star and the punter who pays the £6.99. But like Peter Kay's recent biography the book abruptly stops just as it's getting going. Whether these two are being shrewd and want to cash in with another more commercial book at a later date, part two if you like, and talk about the stuff we really want to hear about is fair enough, but there isn't enough here to entertain me, the book just about his childhood. But I feel they are quite simply not interesting in talking about celebrity that made them who they are, claiming talent is the real driver, and so sticking to their early years for now. When the work drys up for the likes of Kay and Fry you can bet your life they will write a tell all!
If you are expecting that revelatory celebrity stuff-which I was-then this is not the book for you, and I'm afraid the rating suffers for that. There's only so much public school b***ing, beatings and poetry writing a man can take, and apparently that's a lot at the obligatory English upper middle-class public school Fry attended and detailed every day at here. This book really is Stephen Fry's school days. Be warned.
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"We had run well and run hard, the vapor steaming from the hot mystery of this his mouth and throat...the delights to come"
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The early days for Stephen were a very comfortable upbringing in rural Norfolk, his father an inventor or repute, their huge country house in Booton evidence of his success and status. Soon young Stephen was steamed off to prep school in the Hogwarts Express, following in the tracks of his older brother Roger. 90% of the parents of public school boarders live within one hour of their kids, the experience not about being unable to care for their kids but what they have also gone through, presumably so the kids repeat what they do in life. We also learn very early on that Fry has a hidden deviancy to him, confessing to enjoying watching other boys do poo-poos and wee-wees in the forest before his teens arrived.
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"If this boy could play ordinary poker then he could play strip poker. I was quickly a naked fool"
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It's about here in the book you can feels Fry's guilt of being born Jewish and homosexual, two crosses he has clearly had to bear. It also about now in the book he realized he was gay and the stigma that came with that, even though gay frolics are the norm in all boy's public school. Once he got to Uppingham School, the education establishment that would supposedly take him through to A-levels and Oxbridge, he had no choice but to declare his sexuality, his love of a boy called Mathew taking over the middle of the book. It was also here that Fry confesses to being a wretched thief , a nasty habit that would see him get expelled from two schools and eventually go to prison for credit card fraud, something I wasn't aware of.
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"I was well spoken, but not well spoken of".
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If you want a thorough and hilarious gay mans exposes of celebrity and a raucous upbringing in public school then Rupert Everett's autobiography,' Red Carpets and other Banana Skins', is the one you go for. After reading that beautifully written book I was hoping I would get more of the same in this, but it just wasn't the case. The sprawling long chapters of between over 50-100 pages each, one for each school, make this very hard work. And if you don't particularly want to hear about the nuance and minutia of public school life then don't even consider buying this.
I also feel Fry wants to emulate his big hero Oscar Wilde throughout this book, writings and actions, prison an example of, Fry claiming incarceration was easy and a breeze as he was prepared for it by a rather brutal public school life. Stephen quotes Wilde a lot in the book and also feels his torment, the actor playing Wilde in the film of the same name. I hardly feel Fry is brave enough to pioneer gay rights here. Fry is merely a spoilt kid in his early life.
Fry's irritating use of big words in his novels to confuse and show off has always been my gripe with his work - and there's one or two here to keep mere mortals like me at bay and keep distancing me. It's almost as if he only wants to talk to his own social class. In the book he uses the word 'pleonastic', the act of using too many words in a sentence than is necessary, which sums up his rather pedantically honest biography to me. His school days were clearly traumatic and gauche for him, as was his relationship with his father, and he wants to tell just that. That's great for you and I suppose the essence of a true autobiography but I fear no one is listening dear boy until its get entertaining.
Moab is My Washpot is a story about the earlier years of the life of national treasure Stephen Fry. It tells the story of his growing up and going to primary school, secondary school, and then to university. It tells, sometimes in graphic details, of the way in which he found himself to be a homosexual and the different ways in which he decided to deal with people who bullied him because of it, some of which are rather humerous.
In this book, Fry demonstrates his wide and exceptional knowledge of the english language and often uses words that you never thought existed, some readers if not most readers may decide to have a dictionary at an arms length whilst reading this as it can become somewhat confusing if you can't comprehend several words in a sentence, let alone a paragraph!!!
In my opinion Fry is an absolute genius in whatever he decides to do with his career, whether it be writing more books, or anything else.
A while back I reviewed a book by Stephen Fry, my first foray into the literary side of one of Britains national treasures (I dont say that lightly) and one comment suggested that I try his early biography Moab is my Washpot, it just goes to show that Dooyoo does work, I wouldnt have thought of reading this without that comment as Im not normally a fan of autobiographies. For once I bought the book outright without waiting for my local library to order it in for me. Fry is the quintessence of all that is English and although I count myself as Welsh I recognise a fellow feeling of pride in ones nationality.
Ive always been a fan of Fry for as long as I can remember, his performances with Hugh Laurie, the appearances in Black Adder along with his films, the most notable being his performance in Wilde. Currently he is the narrator for the Harry Potter books and Im eagerly waiting reading more of his books.
I close to read this one because I wanted to find out about the man behind the humour before I went on to read more of his books. Many comedians are quite shy by nature and this proved to be the case.
Frys book is an inner journey into the psyche of the his youth, from his early days in prep school to the many public schools he attended between the ages of seven and sixteen. He was born on the 24th August 1957 into a family that bordered on the upper class at that time. From the first few chapters Fry emerges as an enigma, in one case a product of his upbringing but also sewing the seeds of rebellion, which defines his early years.
His older brother Roger, of whom he speaks with genuine regard, first started prep school at Stouts Hill boarding school where Fry was to join him a year later. This august establishment first started Fry on a career as the schools Fool and later he turned to stealing to buy sweets at the out-of-bounds village sweetshop in nearby Uley based in the county of Gloucestershire. He speaks with fondness of his time here and debates the question of sending young children to boarding schools as something which was normal to him at that time.
His next move to Uppingham School seems to have been the catharsis that plunged him into even greater excesses during his stay here. In a school that prided themselves on turning out boys both healthy in mind and body, Fry was always destined to be the odd one out. An asthma sufferer from an early age and completely inept at any sports, Fry eventually turned back to petty theft from the boys changing rooms. It was here he eventually had his first homosexual initiation and met the first love of his life.
Doomed to worshiping from afar Frys behaviour became even more bizarre and some of his exploits bordered on the ridiculous, eventually leading to temporary expulsion at a critical stage in his life. Educationally brilliant but a complete duffer at Maths he spent a lot of time in the company of his father who was a scientist and inventor of some renown.
He returned to the school in the summer term of 1972 and tried to knuckle down to his studies taking his O-levels at the tender age of fourteen and passing every subject except science with high grades. In those days the A-level exams could be taken at the age of sixteen or seventeen, and Fry initially made an effort in his chosen subjects of English, French and Ancient History. It was too good to last and he eventually got expelled causing his family much distress. The consequences were to have a negative effect on Frys life and plunge him into even more irrational behaviour. For the rest of the story I urge readers to find out for themselves, much of Frys early life is documented but there were many things I didnt know about this period in his life up to the age of twenty years old.
Behind the Story.
If it seems I have given a lot of the story away forgive me, an autobiography is a hard book to review. In this case its particularly difficult, much of Frys early life has been held up to public scrutiny before now.
Fry spent an agony of many months in revealing the thoughts and feelings behind the main story. He felt drained, both physically and mentally after poring his heart out and lying bare the soul of a boy and teenager. Where certain memories were understandingly dim he was helped out by one of his early teachers who he still remembers with a bit of fear but also a lot of respect.
Many celebrities use a ghost writer to spin their tale into something that will delight fans, but Fry is a gifted writer and obviously wanted to put across his feelings whilst still retaining a chronological order to the first twenty years of his life.
The reader gets to know his family and his friends, they also get a peek into the life of someone who appears to have had a privileged background, but at what cost?
The book started slowly and Frys habit of starting a story and then skipping ahead or backwards kept me on my toes. Initially I found this style of writing difficult to follow until I realised something that swept me away, Stephen was talking to me and me alone. This is something I share with my best friend; we may start out on one topic and digress to the point when we cannot remember what started the conversation in the first place.
When an author speaks to you in that way the least you can do is listen faithfully and hope that in amongst the jumbled messages you are hearing something that belongs to you alone.
Fry goes out of his way to blame himself solely for the things he did wrong and yet reading between the lines I found a child crying out to be understood. Talking about his sexuality he is aware that maybe he is protesting too much, trying to put across a message about love versus sex. He also does this with his family, making his father out to be a model parent when I get the feeling that his father may have (unconsciously) been the root of most of Frys problems with authority figures. His mother comes across as a delightful happy person but there could also be issues with Frys exuberant character, maybe he inherited this from his mother or maybe he sought to emulate her? Im no expert on family relationships but the high regard Fry places on his family is both touching but strangely revealing.
Im a little older than Fry but I went to a girls only grammar school and the system that he writes about is very familiar to me. I wasnt a boarder, heaven forbid, I was one of only three pupils who passed the 11+ and coming from a working class background I was taunted every day. I find it rather strange that I can understand the young Fry whose longing to fit in mirrored mine in so many ways. I survived my school (barely) but I could have easily gone along the same route as Fry. This is what endeared me to the book and made it real to me.
This is an extraordinary book full of life and the satirical wit we have come to expect from Stephen Fry. Its painfully honest to the point when I sometimes had to stop and wipe a tear away, not a tear of laughter but of empathy with a soul so near to mine.
How can a working class girl and a famous writer and comedian have so much in common? This is the question the book poses to a majority of people who felt their school days were a dress rehearsal for real life.
Fry went off the rails but eventually got his life back in order, for a liar and a thief he has turned his world around but the boy inside the man still shows occasionally.
Whether you like him or not, this book is a painful insight into the formative years of a very shy man.
It takes courage to face your demons and Fry certainly had a lot of demons to exorcise. Read the book as a fan, read it as critic, you wont judge Fry as harshly as he judges himself. Remember that child inside who still cries out for attention and wonder, given the high standards set by his family and himself, could you have emerged as gracefully as Fry has done?
The title of the book is a bit of a puzzle, I understand the reference to the washpot of life but the Moab bit still remains a mystery. I have my own ideas about this but any other theories are welcome.
My copy is by Arrow Publications and although the retail price was £6.99 I bought it in a bookshop sale for just £3.50. My copy has a picture of Stephan Fry on the cover and differs from book covers on Amazon who are still selling it at £7.99 new. My advice is to look around or buy a used copy, who knows, this could eventually be a collectable item?
© Lisa Fuller. 2006.
Having read the book, I still only have a vague idea of what on earth the title is going on about, but never mind. "Moab" is an autobiography, recounting the first 20 years or so of Stephen Fry's life. It's an interesting, alarmingly honest sort of book. Stephen Fry was educated in prep schools (in Uley of all places, very close to where I used to live) and public school. It will not shock his fans to learn that he wasn't that good at fitting in to the rugger orrientated world of the public school, that he was always a bit of a pretentious oddball and that he knew he was gay from a fairly early age. Some details about his less pleasant youthfull exploits cast him in somthing of a different light, and his honesty in discussing the less appealing parts of his nature is surprising. "Moab" offers some insight into the Fry family background, but mostly concentrates on Stephen's early expereinces, with the odd dash of more modern references. There's a few photos on the middle (not in glorious technicolour I might add.)and a fair dash of humour along the way - as you would expect. It was a more touching piece than I had anticipated. Anyone who has read Fry's first novel, "The Liar" will probably be curious to find out how much of the book actually owes itself to Fry's real life. Turns out there's a fair amount, but I'm not going to spoil either text by telling you which bits crop up twice. My only problem with this book is that it stops just before Fry headed off to Cambridge, thus depriving one and all of early annecdotes pertaining to Hugh Laurie, and all the stuff about his footlights days, which I would have thought would make very interesting reading. I can only hope that at some point he will go back and write another bit of autobiography. Many autobiographies these days seem to be about young celebs who have done little of interest, and who have probably
roped in a ghostwriter. "Moab" is a pleasure to read because Fry has such a distinctive and amusing writing style. His life was both thoroughly typical and thoroughly original, as he is careful to point out. It isn't the nostalgic youth of Laurie Lee, it isn't wall to wall debauchery, it isn't the tale of a rising genius because Fry seems to have been determined to thwart himself continually. It is however a telling and endearing insight into a life, and it largely left me with the feeling that I wanted to know what happened next.
A wonderfully written and insightful look into the life of a true celebrity. Who knew ones childhood could be so exciting. I was interested in reading this book due to the authors life in Norfolk, even so this is a truelly great book. Mr fry is brutally honest in dredging up his long and almost forgotten memories. Mr fry's eloquence in describing his early life is beautiful and a joy to read. This book breathed life into me and gave me the will to face past regrets.
A humorous autobiography that covers the author's time at public school, acting and writing career and the ups and downs of his personal life.