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Book review: <i>Moab is My Washpot</i> by Stephen Fry

If this was an evening at home, it would be a rainy night spent sitting in your favourite chair by the fire with a thick letter from a fond friend going through difficult times. There’d also be cups of tea and chocolate biscuits.


A pleasant, if slightly twee, photo of Stephen looking up at us from the floor and wearing pink socks (and other things, fortunately. Well, you never know with these showbiz types)


Autobiography says it all, really. The author’s life until the age of twenty.

The good

Elegantly written, incisive, funny and genuinely modest. In an autobiography, no less. Very honest, too—Fry makes no excuses for the spoilt-upper-class-smarmy-smart-arsed-thieving-little-git-like behaviour of his adolescence, while at the same time I found it impossible not to muster sympathy for the guy. He did go to a public school, after all, and I imagine growing up gay and ten times brighter than his peers wasn’t easy either.

The rather eclectic, often conversational manner of the telling is such that it avoids the: “It was in seventy-four that things got really tedious. My first tooth had just come through and my mother’s maiden aunt had recently passed-”, etc., etc., syndrome which turns me off autobiographies of all but the most interesting or erudite. Fry is, of course, both. This intimate delivery enables one to learn a bit about the man today as he learns a bit about his childhood self via the act of remembrance, or at least Fry is good at giving this impression. As it were. The man’s brain is formidable, and thus one trusts the minutiae of his memories more than one might, for instance, a footballer’s, but the fact is that he’s such a damn good storyteller you won’t mind a bit whether or not he’s colouring in the corners.

The bad

Another thing I dislike about autobiographies is that it usually takes ages to get to the bit where the pleb starts to become the celeb, i.e. the bit you’re actually interested in, assuming you aren’t writing a thesis. As this stops when Fry hits age 20, I guess it’s one more mark on the scoreboard to him that it was an irresistible read anyway; however, I really did want to hear about his career as half of one of the funniest comedy teams of all time, not to mention authoring three rather fabulous novels, working in Hollywood, getting his bendy nose all over the tabloids, etc., etc. He even hints at the possibility of such a second volume on the final page, the cruel man. More, please.

An eclectic approach to retelling of events is all very well, but this has a tendency to jump all over the bloody place like an itchy-arsed flea. It sometimes seems as though Fry is aged 8, 14, and 35 at the same time whilst simultaneously being expelled from 2 different schools.

The man’s sheer unadulterated intelligence and wit, particularly when so young, would be off-putting if he wasn’t so charmingly self-deprecating about it all, but it still made me a bit jealous (I don’t know many people whose teen wangst poetry took the form of 12 canto, 50 six-line-stanzas-each Epic poems in the style of Byron's Don Juan) and there is a certain type of person who would find this simply intolerable.

What I learnt

Mr. Fry is neither as old nor out-of-it as I had once assumed (probably because he seems so bookish and avuncular when he’s being modest—as opposed to when he’s on Parkinson doing his Julian-Clary-in-tweed thing).

His nose was broken early in life and grew crookedly, which may account for his (occasionally) unintentional air of extreme smugness.

He adores music but can’t play, sing, or even hum in tune.

He once briefly did time for credit-card fraud and theft.

He once attempted suicide.

Most of The Liar is based on his school life.

He read more ‘proper’ books in his teens than I have ever seen in my whole life, even in those ads where the guy wants to prove he’s a real doctor, honestly.

Lots of other groovy things I won’t waste space recounting here.

In short

Title: Moab Is My Washpot
Author: Stephen Fry
Author: Arrow Books Ltd
ISBN: 0099727315
Year published: 1998
Pages: 352
Genre(s): Autobiography

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

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