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July 28, 2008

Telling It Like It Is

Memoirs are interesting pieces of work and all vary in terms of life experiences. There are memoirs that describe life experiences in tandem with emotional growth, and there are others, that contain masses of passive-aggressive anecdotes about family relationships and dynamics (such as Christopher Cyclone’s ‘Life With My Sister Madonna’, extracted in The Times and published all over the world. In Australia, it appeared in the debut issue of Grazia last week). Then there are the faux memoirs that have caused upheaval (such as Frey’s many fictional Pieces of himself), so what makes a good memoir?

I think a good memoir depends on the readers personal preferences (subject matter, etc) and stage in life - it’s a personal choice. There are some memoirs that appear in high school programs, that contain a wide range of experiences that encompass historical events. When I was in high school, one of the first memoirs I read was A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey that included WWI, The Great Depression, life on the land and returning to civilian life after war, among other things.The author wasn’t a member of glam literary circles. He was an ordinary Australian male with many experiences under his belt, whose memoir offered a glimpse of a hands-on life before contemporary technological advances.  Memoirs that include a historical backdrop or relation tend to offer a panoramic view of life whereas the celebrity/monotone memoirs reproduce the same thing: sensationalism. Then there are other memoirs that focus on one subject (e.g. sexual experiences) that narrow life or describe it in relation to the one subject. I haven’t read a (printed) sex memoir since Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker, and with the wide array of sex blogs currently online, there is no need for me to go out and purchase a sex memoir. There are days when I think that sex is such a small part of adulthood, and it only becomes fulfilling when other parts of life are balanced (or balanced somewhat).

The other memoir that has created more headlines in Australia is Gentle Satan: My Father, Abe Saffron. This is a son’s memoir about his father or his life with his father, and so far, the extract proves to be compelling on many levels. It reveals Abe Saffron’s business interests and his relationship with his wife, who remained loyal despite experiencing depressive episodes due to her husband’s controlling behavior and sexual indiscretions. This book is based on Abe Saffron’s rise in Sydney’s business community, and the controversy surrounding his business links and ventures. Are such memoirs surprising? On one level they are interesting for the public, but there is the shadowy specter of resentment; Alan Saffron didn’t receive much in his father’s will. Can the memoir be subtitled: “Diary of a Disgruntled Son?” Who knows, but one thing is apparent, the son isn’t shy about discussing his father’s dealings and according to the Sunday Telegraph, the memoir will be updated to include real names once the identities depart this life. The other question: do we need to know about his business interests, relationships and sexual escapades? 

Memoirs are tricky works to publish. Often times, legal counsel is sought, and lawsuits can be the order of the day. I’m not sure what Madonna will do now that her brother has written about her personal life, but these sorts of memoirs raise the issue of privacy. Does the general public deserve a memoir that is nothing more than an invasion of privacy and bitchy/moralistic diatribe? We all know that large sums of money and success alter an individual’s world and although ordinary folk cringe and mock the uber wealthy, pointing fingers (each time a scandal arises)  and validating the ‘money is the root of all evil,’ argument - at least to themselves - the memoirs keep on coming. One thing is certain - they sell, so when authors like Madonna’s brother say, ‘it’s not for the money,’ I tend to think, ‘what fucking bollocks,’ and this - for me (on a personal level) diminishes the value of his memoir. There is no real integrity, and if he simply came out and said, ‘yes it’s for the money,’ or ‘I feel like a nobody after being in her shadow’ then it’s understandable, and -in my view- adds more juice to his tale. As for reading about Madonna dancing on tables, having a fun kiss with Gwyneth or choosing to snob J.Lo, is this really a surprise? Madonna has published more controversial things (her visual Sex book). She’s a juggernaut. What can derail her?

Memoirs prove one thing, and that thing pertains to voyeurism. People always want to know how the other half lives, and money/success aside, the lives of famous others aren’t so different where family feuds and personal relationships are concerned.

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Comments

just discovered your blog..love your posts memoirs..indeed depends on the readers personal preferences am working on thsi exact project recently and daily discover this

Not really into biographies, but have read A B Facey's book, and found it an interesting but difficult read. For me, it just did not flow well, but the story is a fascinating one, nonetheless. That's the thing about writing. Some people can write really well, for an easy read, while others tell a great story, but make it hard to get there. As for the Madonna relatives, well, I won't be buying the book, for any reason. I'm with you in the get honest brigade. Another great post, just by the way.

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