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Stuart: A Life Backwards - Alexander Masters

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Genre: Biography / Author: Alexander Masters / Paperback / 304 Pages / Book is published 2006-02-01 by HarperPerennial

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    3 Reviews
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      25.07.2011 12:46

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      I would definitely recommend this book for a thought provoking read.

      This book is a biography of a man named Stuart (hence the title) written by the journalist Alexander Masters.
      They seem to be as complete opposite ends of the social hierarchy, which I think is what makes it so interesting and touching, as they become good friends.
      We are taken through Stuarts life in different (slightly unstructured) sections, we travel with Alexander Masters into the discovery of Stuarts life, and how he ended up as a drug and alcohol addict, and why he seems to keep no temporary home, and seems to prefer to go from living in hostels, to on the street, to living independently in a council house, and then back again.
      We also go through Stuarts childhood, and are let into the various traumatic things which happened in his life and why these may have affected his life as he grew up.

      I really enjoyed reading this book and found it very emotional at times. I also strangely felt some kind of connection to them, as Stuart was from Cambridge, and he and Alexander Masters visited Norfolk a few times, which is where I grew up.
      Its a really interesting read, I would recommend it.

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      12.07.2009 00:23
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      a heartbreaking, insightful, funny study of a survivor of homelessnes.

      A labour of love by journalist & one-time homeless hostel-worker Alexander Masters, this is the life story of Stuart Shorter. When we meet him he is busy confounding the expectations of all the professionals by making a go of living in his new flat & weaning himself off heroin, having only recently been a long-term homeless, drug-addled, knife-obsessed alcoholic.

      Masters works back in time through the periods of Stuart's life, punctuated by violence & homelessness & jail, & the further we go back the more we learn about what caused him to become this chaotic, violent, unhappy grown man.

      Stuart is a colourful character & his voice is heard throughout, ranging from competely barking to comical to wise & profound.

      Using Stuart's insights & his own thoughts on the cycle of homelessness, Masters unravels why anyone would rather risk lice & pneumonia & hypothermia living in a doorway than get a flat, & makes sense of the chaos of life on the streets that baffles the rest of the population.

      It's a sensitive & thoughtful study, both of Stuart himself, his troubled family & the homeless population in general.

      The conversations between Shorter & Masters are framed by the campaign in which they're involved, to free two homeless hostel managers jailed when - despite their best efforts - drugs were being sold in their hostel. It's a sobering story but provides a lot of interesting material about hostel life, & about the petty inflexibility of the legal system & how it can destroy the lives of decent people.

      A Life Backwards is heartbreaking & hard to read in places but enormously rewarding as well because of its touching descriptions of Stuart (which honour the man but also give a face to the anonymous homeless) & the understanding it gives of a desperately complicated, difficult social problem.

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        23.04.2008 19:23
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        worth a read

        How many times do we pass by a homeless person in the street and just write them off as a waste of space? In this book the life story of one of these men, Stuart, is told by journalist and author Alexander Masters. As his story unfolds we learn how a young boys life and mind is slowly ruined by abuse at the hands of his brother and then in childrens homes and he spirals into an adulthood filled with violence, drink and drugs, mental illness, prisons and homelessness.

        The book can be confusing to read sometimes as the present and the past are spoken about in the same chapters but we learn a lot about Stuart during the book and I developed a lot of sympathy for somebody who I would probably have seen as unlikeable if we had met him in the street. Instead of feeling pity for a man who has had a hard life, I found my respect for Stuart growing through the book. The story is told backwards, with earlier chapters talking about his adulthood and going back to his childhood. Stuarts wider family were also interviewed from the book and it was interesting to hear their perspectives.


        Alexander Masters is a jornalist and has clearly done his research for this book. As well as spending time with homeless charities there are numerous academic references in this book but sometimes I wished he would leave the statistics about homelessness out of the book and allow Stuarts voice to come through more. Having said that, it paints a clear picture that homelessness is not just about lacking a roof over your head but shows a somewhat realistic view of the problems faced by those with chaotic lifestyles.


        Despite the dark subject matter, this is a moving story about friendship between men from different backgrounds, the posh public school educated Alexander and glue sniffing homeless man Stuart and theres a lot of humour in the book as well as the dark stuff. I wonder if the book was exploitative, after all Masters made a name for himself through this book and I wonder what Stuart would have gained from it.

        It's not a must read, but I will still rate it highly. Theres a lot of Stuarts out there and you may look at the drunken tramps a bit differently after reading this book.

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      • Product Details

        This is a major new launch for the paperback edition of the most original, captivating and award-winning memoir of the year. Stuart, A Life Backwards, is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator ('a middle class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander) and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this is Stuart's confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With humour, compassion (and exasperation) Masters slowly works back through post-office heists, prison riots and the exact day Stuart discovered violence, to unfold the reasons why he changed from a happy-go-lucky little boy into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality, with a fondness for what he called 'little strips of silver' (knives to you and me). Funny, despairing, brilliantly written and full of surprises: this is the most original and moving biography of recent years.