Tuesday 21 October 2014

Memoirs finally find their bite after years of bland offerings

Published 26/10/2013 | 21:30

Outspoken: Morrissey
Scores to settle: Alex Ferguson

The initial glee that Penguin must have felt when Morrissey delivered the manuscript of his biography is likely to have been swiftly replaced with worry over the potential legal ramifications.

It is safe to assume that lawyers for the venerable publisher have been very busy over the past month as they sifted through the ex-Smiths frontman's inimitably fashioned words.

The singer has never been afraid to speak his mind and in Autobiography he takes aim at just about everybody he encountered.

Virtually every page finds him launching a broadside against music industry professionals, cultural personalities, ex-band members, TV hosts, other pop stars, ordinary members of the public – you name it.

Veteran Irish broadcaster Henry Kelly is dismissed as "a little, pinched Irish madam". Smiths drummer, Mike Joyce, who sued Morrissey for unpaid royalties, is described as "a flea in search of a dog". And, his contempt for one-time friend Sandie Shaw is such that on hearing that her version of his song 'Hand in Glove' was pressed on a Japanese version of a Smiths album, that he begged friends to "kill me now".

They are the sort of wonderfully quotable put-downs that make the 457 pages of his book skip by so quickly. And it is about as far a cry from the anodyne celebrity autobiographies that have infested our book shops as you can get.

We've had the tedious utterances of Katie Price, aka glamour model Jordan – who, at the ripe old age of 35, has already published five autobiographies – and the smash-and-grab tomes penned by reality television personalities.

Thank heavens, then, for Sir Alex Ferguson whose My Autobiography – published on Thursday – lets some big egos have it with both barrels.

"He thought he was Peter Pan," he writes of his former on-field lieutenant, Roy Keane, whose game, Ferguson felt, had begun to wane. "The hardest part of Roy's body is his tongue. He has the most savage tongue you can imagine." And he doesn't mince his words when it comes David Beckham: "He thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson."

Fergie's acid words make a pleasant change from the great reams of fluff that are printed by football people. One need only recall that one of the few memorable revelations in Wayne Rooney's 2006 memoir, My Story So Far, was his insistence that he could only fall asleep to the sound of a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer (the actual hair-drying device, and not – to employ one of his nicknames – his old manager Alex Ferguson), while the aforementioned Beckham confided in one of his numerous autobiographies that his obsessive compulsive disorder resulted in him neatly arranging the bottles of juice in his fridge.

Happily, Irish sports figures have delivered autobiographies that offer a far more candid look into their lives than the contents of their fridges. Hurling icon and Weekend Review cover star DJ Carey casts a cold eye over his troubled off-pitch difficulties, as well as his forthright thoughts on what's often described as the fastest game on earth.

Penguin Ireland MD Michael McLoughlin believes such books resonate with the public because they are honest. The reader wants to feel that they are getting to know someone, warts and all.

"We published Jonny Sexton's book and he didn't shirk from discussing his relationship with Ronan O'Gara. Jonny probably would have preferred not to go there, but it wouldn't have been nearly as engaging an autobiography if he hadn't.

McLoughlin believes the standard of autobiographies is considerably better than "five or six years ago" and cites the example of (ex-Cork goalkeeper) Dónal Óg Cusack as an example. "Of course, there's a lot of hurling in the book, but people remember it for the fact that Dónal came out as gay, which is very rare among sports people – especially those who are still playing, as he was at the time."

While there is an audience for the ramblings of Jordan et al, McLoughlin believes frivolous autobiographies don't do as well in this country as in Britain. "Maybe it's something to do with the recession," he says. "Vacuous books don't cut it in the way that something like Eamon Dunphy's (recently published) memoir does."

The sales speak for themselves: Morrissey's Autobiography is number one in the paperback charts in Ireland and Britain this weekend.

Irish Independent

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