Sunday, 20 July 2008

My Thoughts: Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

I'm not sure if this book made it across the pond, or if it would have the same affect outside of the UK, but I guess everywhere has homeless people. Staurt: A Life Backwards is about the like of Stuart, a part time homeless person, part-time prisoner, part-time drug taker.

The book starts startingly with the knowledge that Stuart died before the book was published, hit by a late night train. The book then goes on to describe Stuart's life from this point back to his childhood, plus the 4 years that the author spent with Stuart. Stuart's life is all over the place, he seems intelligent, on the ball, he takes offence at other peoples violent nature yet he cannot control or understand his life. He sometimes speaks with a clearness that explains exactly how he feels and at other times he struggles to form a sentence.

I read this as part of a bookring, other people who had read the book said that they thought the author was patronising, I just thought his tone perfectly summed up the experience of knowing someone like Stuart, someone who no matter how hard you tried you were never going to be able to rescue of fix. I had also seen the BBC's televised adaptation of the book and it had perfectly caught this feeling of frustration so I wasn't surprised.

The book is set in and around Cambridge, somewhere I have either lived near or in for the first 24 years of my life. I always find it strange to read about a place that I know so well. This book was written at the time I was at University in Cambridge, a university set right next to one of the homeless shelters. At that time Cambrigde was full of homeless people, I passed the same homeless people on a day-to-day basis and became hardened to seeing them. At this time I had seen all the newspaper articles about the Homeless man who owned a 5 bedroomed house and a nice car, I had watched people who I had given money to the day before sell drugs right in front of the same people she had begged from the day before. I remember my brother coming home digusted after giving a homeless person a pizza from Pizza Hut and being told by the guy 'what would I want that for'. Homelessness was a huge issue in Cambridge then. It's strange to think that I could have walked past this guy in te streets. Thankfully Cambridge now seems to have very few homeless people, but now I live miles away from it, if I see a homeless person I feel guilty and ashamed to just walk past. (That's a huge essay, kinda off tangent -sorry!)

I expected this book to make me feel like that but it actually doesn't, it's honest and brutal, but doesn't try and make you feel bad. The language is true to speech, the swearing brutally honest and imbedded in the everyday speech of Stuart, startling against the educated speech of Alexander, the author.


1 comment:

Ronda's Rants said...

This sounds very interesting and I think I would like to read this...I understand your feelings of guilt in regards to homeless people. I think we all struggle with what our response should be...I am going to look for this book at the library.