sometimes witty book reviews
Dawn French has been my role model for, like, ever. When I left school we had to think of a phrase to end the sentence ‘Most likely to be…’ for our yearbook. I wrote ‘The Vicar of Dibley.’
I watched French’s character Geraldine tromp across stage in a ballet outfit, get married in her pyjamas and countless times create and fix disturbingly possible conundrums all over Dibley. I just wanted to be her.
And then I read her autobiography Dear Fatty (2009) and decided I didn’t. Not because I don’t love her more than Terry’s Chocolate Oranges, but because to be Dawn French you’ve gotta go through a lot of gut-wrenching stuff.
By all accounts French had a brilliant childhood, loved school and had firm friends of both the human and fur-covered variety. ‘Fatty’ is French’s Comedy (Goddess) partner Jennifer Saunders, yet this book is mostly a series of letters to her father who tragically committed suicide when she was in her late teens.
The shock of her father’s death after such a splendid upbringing hit French hard. The whole book feels like a public act of cathartic release; laughing and creating laughter became and still is French’s coping mechanism. Describing her ongoing sense of loss at her father’s death, the great love of her child Billie and the undying passion for learning and teaching the art of laughter reveals French’s overlooked talent for straight writing.*
Celebrity comedy memoirs often spiral into drivel very quickly. French does occasionally tread the fine line between a glorious ramble and incoherent rambling but, to me, she never crosses it. Her prose is revealing, personal and quite obviously her own. No back-office-minion shadow-writing here!
After reading this memoir, I recommend this book be kept readily accessible for a riotous giggle on dreary mornings.
*Which was further revealed and resoundingly successful in her first novel A Tiny Bit Marvellous (2010)