Ticklish delight

Moab is my Washpot

Stephen Fry had an interesting first twenty years. So did a lot of people, and a lot of biographies describe such childhoods. So far, so similar. Well, in Fry's case, his life might have been rather conventional, and sometimes dull in a middle-class way, were it not that he himself unintentionally, self-destructively, livened it up. Theft. Fraud. Abscondment. Pursuit by the law. A criminal record. Add in this mix an all-boy's public school, smatterings of sex, and the tortured writhings of an adolescent's soul, related by a literate, interesting, talented adult who writhes just as much in embarrassment: from its premise, Moab is my Washpot can only be either a harrowing car-crash of a read or a source of page after page of fascination.

To grow up anywhere in the vicinity of Fry's comedy and writing is to fall a little in love with his public persona: occasionally irritated, certainly, and tired at his relentless tweediness, but love, like public school's rather robust ersatz, sometimes hurts. We all want an evening with Stephen Fry, and this autobiography is exactly that. He talks, he reveals, he riffs and creates, tying his slightly unexciting toddlerhood to funny (although nowadays slightly hackneyed) observations on English culture, and relentlessly analysing (and largely castigating) his later actions. One gets the sense of the author sitting by one's side and telling the story: luckily, it's told so well that this only adds to the experience.

Oddly, for a pedant like Fry, there's an abundance of minor errors (in the 1997 edition) that even the most basic of proofreading would have discovered: missing vocative commas, commas in the places of full stops, the occasional clumsy or ambiguous sentence. It's almost as though he has indeed dictated it to an amanuensis, perhaps to deliberately develop the flavour of An Evening With Stephen Fry. Yet at least once he mentions he's typing it himself. Has he fallen victim to the post-proofing butchery of sub-editors, or is this really only a first draft, printed stet and off the cuff? If this is a first draft, we should all feel a pang of jealousy towards this genius---although he would balk and dissemble if so called---who is able to engage and entertain, for some four hundred pages without a break, with all the apparent ease of a don smoking a pipe in the senior common room.