Having now finished the most recent autobiographical offering from Stephen Fry I can say without hesitation that he is an individual brave in his honesty. His thoughts are, or at least appear to be, for the most part unedited. Lengthy passages conveying his hopes and fears and the waning confidence in his own abilities and talent, open this individual to a world of vulnerability. The academic, actor, comic and journalist whom Fry embodies seems to ooze self-confidence and control, yet the picture Fry paints is often that of a lost human being.
Certainly when it comes to matters of his career everything he touches seems to turn to gold. Award winning playwright, television comedian, radio host and author, he turns his hand with apparent ease to each new endeavour. A confident character travelling through life effortlessly is certainly the impression the world gets, but Fry attests that it is never so simple. Admittedly, opportunities do often come knocking, but Fry is always grappling with his own sense of self-worth. He seems to suffer from a deep-seated fear of being uncovered as a fraud, always finding fault within himself and anticipating other will do the same.
Fry shows from the many episodes within the book and indeed from the circumstances related in his previous autobiographical work, Moab is My Washpot, that glazing over the uncomfortable and regrettable moments of his history is not acceptable to him. Instances that other people, in the telling of their own life stories, would rather forget and omit are part of Fry’s life narrative and as such necessarily included. Weaknesses, vulnerabilities, aspects of his own character that he despises, and moments of embarrassment or shame do not get relegated to the back seat; Fry is open about that which makes him human.
He talks of his addictive personality, his abhorrence of his own physical appearance and of his frustration at his laziness, for his health and appearance could be improved if it were not for his lack of drive and desire. Fry cringingly looks back on the character traits of his youth; the spoilt, flashy younger man who came into fortune and happily squandered vast earnings on fast cars, large homes and the latest technological advances.
When reading of his flurrying spending and of his disgust in his past behaviour it is difficult to share Fry’s self-loathing for the picture that is painted is not that of a snotty brat, but rather that of a very lost individual. His purchases, the clubs he joins and his unquenchable work ethic all scream of a man trying desperately to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the world.
For all his success, breakthroughs and moments in the spotlight there is a great void in Fry’s existence. He has friends certainly, he writes a great deal on their goodness, their talent and their kindness. He has family too and colleagues whom greatly appreciate and admire him. The void comes in his lovelessness. That is not to say that he is incapable of loving and caring for friends and family, but rather that he does not appear to factor romantic relationships into his life. One Cambridge roommate appears to slip from friend to lover and then back again without scarcely being noticed, and a momentary pause is given to a pretty makeup artist, but beyond these two instances Fry appears disinterested in love.
Fry has a wonderful conversationalist style of writing that prompts the reader to believe that they are truly privy to his genuine thoughts and feelings. It is a useful tool employed by the author, for he gives the reader more than enough and at times overburdens us with details of cast members, directors, their histories, friendships and even their own anecdotes, that we feel full, satisfied and at times overtaxed. The onslaught of facts, dates and names makes it difficult at first to see the gaps, that he has neglected certain aspects of his life.
We get titbits of the darker Fry; the man capable of attempting suicide and we are told that the world of romance and physical love is closed to him. We accept this information at first; for Fry has revealed so much, but then we remember that we are inquisitive beings and we want to know, why? What was running through his head when he tried to kill himself and what happened to the Cambridge romance that seemingly just fizzled out? Why would romance and sex not be a factor in his life? These questions are posed not to seek out the sordid affairs of his relationships and friendships, or to accuse him of giving up on life, but to seek an understanding of his thought process and his reasoning. These are two things that Fry does not share in this book. He does not open up his heart and his inner self remains closed.
While the overload of industry background and personalities is at oftentimes cumbersome and in need of a good pruning, there are some lovely, enjoyable moments in this book and anyone who is a fan of Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton or Emma Thompson will get a kick out of reading about their Cambridge lives. Rowan Atkinson also hovers tantalisingly within the background. Fry shares his rise to fame and the triumphs and dramas that it affords. We see him moving along different paths searching for his niche; we see that he is a little bit academic, a little bit of a comic, a little bit theatrical. Brilliant and vastly knowledgeable in each field that he enters. The experimentation and journey of self-discovery is honourable, but incomplete without feeling. It is a regrettable loss to an otherwise honest story. Fry ends this chapter of his story with the promise that there is more to tell; his is an addictive personality that just can’t seem to help itself. I can’t help wondering that just like his comical television collaboration with Hugh Laurie, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, that in The Fry Chronicles we get a little bit of Stephen Fry.
The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography
Author: Stephen Fry
Publisher: Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books