Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell


the cover of the book

I always knew I liked David Mitchell, but now it's official; he's like, in my top ten favourite people of all time list.

The story

David Mitchell has a bad back. He clearly has other issues as well, don't get me wrong. But the back is a biggie. He has been recommended many things to try, most of which are, in his opinion, ridiculous. But the one thing he's found that really works is walking, going on a big long hour-a-day walk. Not only has this helped to fix his back, but it's also had the side effect of weight loss, which David Mitchell would hate to be seen putting effort into on purpose. So it's a self help book, and a weight loss book.

Mitchell takes us on one of his walks, describing everything he walks past and sees. It's also a walking tour of his life, as he delves into his earliest turning points, taking us from his schooling and early friends to his years at Cambridge and meeting Robert Webb. But it isn't all past-Mitchell, present-Mitchell is still very much present; with his fear being photographed for twitter buying underwear at Marks and Spencers, how he has to prepare for any kind of personal interaction, and how his greatest fear is running into Michael Palin at a bus stop, unprepared.

And just in case all that isn't enough for you, on the back inner sleeve of the dust jacket, Mitchell has written a mini novel where the author bio usually goes. Bonus.

The style

David Mitchell is, without a doubt, one of my favourite comedians. Period. Ever since being introduced to Peep Show I was a convert. I've always loved British comedy, having been raised on a diet of Ab Fab and the Young Ones, but Peep Show, to me, had that emotional connection between the two main actors even while they were being terribly cruel to one another. Then there was That Mitchell And Webb Look, and then we went looking for more, like David Mitchell on QI, David Mitchell's ranty vodcasts, basically anything David Mitchell was where it was at. As a side note, this is the first David Mitchell book I've ever gotten through, mainly because the author named David Mitchell is quite a bit like hard work. So I can add that reason to why I loved this book also. But I digress.

Back Story just feels so honest. This is a man, a very private man, who acknowledges that he has a particular set of social idiosyncrasies. Obviously, just as particular as anyone else's, but when one isn't a complete extrovert and one is thrown into relative fame, then you're going to come up against some problems.

And David Mitchell is the kind of guy who wants to be honest, in his biography, always trying to be generous with the people around him. His parents, his friends, any small misunderstanding he has he tries to see it from the other side as well. He's opinionated, sure. He hates certain things, sure. But can justify it, and see everyone's point of view. It's as though, along with the public face of David Mitchell his viewers have come to understand, he's now providing the soft side. And it's great. Frankly, when he started talking about being in love, I almost cried. Turns out he isn't just a great comedian, he's also a very talented writer.

Who is this book for?

Back Story is best suited to David Mitchell fans, I would imagine. Not that it wouldn't be readable by anyone else, because it's excellently written, it's just nice to follow a career trajectory of somebody you already feel like you know.

If you like this book, you would also like...

David Mitchell's TV shows? I don't know, this is the first autobiography I've read since I read Shirley Temple Black's autobiography at the age of twelve. And that's only because people said we looked alike. So I'm not really one to judge.



In short

Title: Back Story
Author: David Mitchell
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-00-735172-5
Year published: 2012
Pages: 326
Genre(s): Autobiography