Monday 19 August 2019

When reality is stranger than fiction

There's something for everything in this year's best biographies and ­memoirs

Amy Schumer signed a reported $10m deal for her memoir
Amy Schumer signed a reported $10m deal for her memoir
Phil Lynott's biography was published to mark the 30th anniversary of the rock star’s death
Marian Keyes. Photo; David Conachy
The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Cowboy Song: The Authorised Biography of Phil Lynott by Graeme Thompson
Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes
Adventures of a Wonky Eyed Boy by Jason Byrne
Our World by Little Mix
Blood, Sweat and McAteer by Jason McAteer
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard
The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John Le Carré

Tanya Sweeney

They say that truth is stranger than fiction… and this year's bounty of biographies and memoirs have certainly given the wildest of tales a run for their money. From the wisdom of sports stars to the side-splitters dreamed up by comedians, there's something in the non-fiction mix for everyone…

Our World by Little Mix (Penguin Ireland, €21.99). Never underestimate the buying power of pint-sized pop fans, who have propelled this girl-group autobiography to the top of the bestseller chart. After the band found fame on The X Factor in 2011, the highs and lows have been manifold. Packed with exclusive photos and insight into the girls' friendships, this book uncovers all you need to know about the foursome, if that is indeed your wont.

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (HarperCollins, €28). To say that this funny girl's book of confessional essays was highly anticipated is understating the case somewhat. Thanks to a rumoured $10m deal, Schumer was given free rein to write about everything from her movie-star career to her difficult relationship with her mother. Schumer's die-hard enthusiasts will be thrilled that her particular brand of uncompromising, singular humour is spattered across most of the book.

Schumer has doubtless figured out that much of her comedic heft lies in her white-hot honesty around sex, drinking, relationships, sibling rivalry and body image, and thus no stone is left unturned in this batch of essays. And with chapter titles like 'Times It's Okay for a Man to Not Make A Woman Come During Sex', 'Rider for the Funeral of Amy Schumer' and 'An Open Letter To My Vagina', it's safe to assume that this is no run-of-the-mill memoir.

Blood, Sweat & Jason McAteer by Jason McAteer (Hachette, €19.99). There are several illustrious moments in McAteer's footballing career, but the one he will most likely be remembered for by Ireland fans is the momentous goal against Holland in 2001, a goal that helped Ireland qualify for a World Cup final for the third time. What followed, of course, was the high drama of the 2002 World Cup in Saipan, and McAteer doesn't shy away from the fact. Even more intriguingly, things turned dark for the football star when he retired, culminating in him contemplating suicide. A meaty memoir with as much gristle as its title promises.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (Bantam, €19.99). Best known as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, Fisher later proved herself to be quite handy with words, too. Recently, the actress unearthed old diaries from her time on the sci-fi behemoth, and here, she lays bare all that they preserved; love poems, teenage ramblings, and delicious details of an on-set affair. With Fisher currently reprising her most famous role, she also writes about her life in the Hollywood fast lane. An absolute must-read for both Star Wars fans and Hollywood followers.

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster, €20). Whatever about his career as a rock'n'roll behemoth, Springsteen has long been regarded as an all-round good egg. And his memoir has certainly hammered home the idea that he's the rock star most of us would want to invite round for dinner.

In between filling out stadiums and arenas, for the last seven years he has been quietly toiling in this opus. And what a work it is: from his blue-collar upbringing in New Jersey to the first stirrings of musical success with the E Street Band, the Boss leaves no stone unturned, and writes with delicious introspection. And even for those who aren't in thrall to Springsteen's music, his story is worth a read for dreamers, creatives and music fans alike.

Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes (Penguin Ireland, €20.99). The hallmarks of good comedic writing are simple: bravery and truth. Keyes has long dabbled in both; underneath her sugary, ebullient prose there often lies a smidge of grit, a gimlet-eyed gambit that those who dismiss her writing as low-calorie froth often don't quite catch. And here, she remains the doyenne of the companionable chatter. So inviting and immersive is her storytelling that Keyes provides a cast of characters at the book's outset. Welcome to her world, in other words.

Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Harville Secker, €25.19). Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard has taken the idea of the epic autobiographical novel to altogether more dizzying plains. After six instalments of My Struggle (Min Kamp), a title that has understandably caused a controversy of its own, Knausgaard is teetering close to literary rock star terrain in his native Scandinavia. Clocking in at a not-inconsiderable 670 pages, Some Rain Must Fall is the latest (and fifth to be translated into English) slice in the 3,500-page opus. After reading previously of his marriage (volume two), his adolescence (volume four), childhood (volume three) and his father's death (volume one), we now find ourselves at the threshold of early manhood. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for our times.

Cowboy Song: The Authorised Biography of Philip Lynott by Graeme Thomson (Constable, €28). Published to mark the 30th anniversary of Lynott's death, Thompson's really brilliant book chronicles the singer's difficult Crumlin childhood, and takes us on a whirlwind journey through his heady rock'n'roll days, his time as Ireland's first rock god, his struggles to keep the band on the road, and, ultimately, the addiction that cost him his life. Lynott remains one of Irish rock's great cornerstones, and this book succinctly reminds us why.

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John Le Carré (Viking, €28). Once upon a time, Le Carré was a man as enigmatic as his own spy thrillers, but he unpicks his life in this highly riveting memoir. After the small-screen adaptation of his book The Night Manager, interest in Le Carré's work has reached fever pitch. Even in the telling of his own story, he remains an utterly brilliant magician with plot, suspense and words. There's even a bizarre run-in with Margaret Thatcher to boot.


Adventures of A Wonky-Eyed Boy by Jason Byrne (Gill & Macmillan, €14.99). Community Games, Ford Cortinas, Panini sticker albums, fancy paper, redoubtable mums who use slippers as a weapon of choice - they're all here in Technicolor glory as comedian Jason Byrne recounts his upbringing. With nary a lick of self-pity, Byrne lurches from moments of disgrace as an altar boy to eye operations in Crumlin hospital, and then on to his first kiss in The Tunnel. First John Player Blue, first metalwork class accident (singed eyebrows), first fall out of a tree; each moment is recalled with gleeful, infectious relish. Those who grew up in the Dublin suburbs, and even beyond, will relate to a frightful number of Byrne's rites of passage. For that reason, this is a ticklish read, with a delicious laugh to be found on every page.

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