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Stuart: A LIfe Backwards

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megustaleer 22nd January 2006, 07:06 PM

 

"Stuart, A Life Backwards", is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this is Stuart's confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With humour, compassion (and exasperation) Masters slowly works back through post-office heists, prison riots and the exact day Stuart discovered violence, to unfold the reasons why he changed from a happy-go-lucky little boy into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality. Funny, despairing, brilliantly written and full of surprises: this is the most original and moving biography of recent years.

 

An abridged version of this book has been serialised on Radio4 during the last week. I didn't listen to all of it, but was absolutely facinated by the episodes I did hear

 

 

Kats 10th April 2006, 01:44 PM

I read the paperback version a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

There are parts that make quite difficult reading, but on the whole it's a very enjoyable book. Stuart comes across as a very interesting character and the relationship between author and subject came across fairly well too.

 

There were parts that could have stood a bit more emphasis and quite a bit more description, but it's a book I'm glad I read.

 

Upsetting, challenging but worthwhile I'd say.

megustaleer 28th May 2006, 06:49 PM

I have just finished this. It is compulsive, compelling reading, and I have just awarded it the first 5 stars of the year in my book list.

 

The concept of telling the story 'backwards', Stuarts own idea, to make it "Something what people will read", was a masterstroke. It turns a book that might have been dismissed as a sociological case study, and to quote Stuart again, " B*ll*cks boring", if not into a book "like what Tom Clancy writes", at least into a mesmerising account of a chaotic life beyond the imagining of most of the populaton.

 

Stuart is a Cambridgeshire lad, so most of what happens to him has been in locations that I have known, or known of, and I certainly remember the case of 'The Cambridge Two', and the three day sleepout of homeless people outside the Home Office, which led to the friendship between biographer and subject, and then to this book.

 

Stuart's story, and the beginnings of his self-destructive life I found very painful, especially as I used to be a care worker in a special school.

 

Inspite of the harrowing details of Stuart's life, the book is suffused with humour, and the two joint projects that Stuart and Alexander undertake give plenty of opportunity for the odd ridiculous moment to lighten the tale.

 

A really worthwhile read, I recommend it highly.

 

Hazel 28th May 2006, 08:29 PM

I am about 2 thirds of the way through this and enjoying it immensely as well. I am surprised how much amusement Masters garners at the expense of Stuart but it does make for an unique read.

 

 

Hazel 31st May 2006, 06:53 PM

Finished this this afternoon. I enjoyed it a lot and found it extremely amusing, not at all what you would expect from the synopsis. Masters sarcastic commentary alongside Stuart's claims and assertions was very funny, and not at all at Stuart's expense. You get a great deal of warmth and feeling from Masters for Stuart, and the playful banter is akin to a brotherly relationship. Much like the one Stuart should have recieved from his own brother but didn't.

 

Apart from the focus on Stuart, the book gives you some insight into the life of the homeless person and the reasons why some people end up on the streets. I got the impression that for a lot of people their lives just spin out of control at one temporary point and they are unable to reign it back in. That could happen to any one of us.

 

A really enjoyable read and one that has a macabre humour.

 

 

Adrian 13th June 2006, 02:19 AM

 

Good read, and another great recommendation from my fellow BGOers.

 

Great idea for the narrative, to tell Stuart's life backward and also include details of the biographer's problems in actually writing the book. Having said that, I wouldn't want it to start a trend, as I can see it becoming the lazy writer's way to get the word count up. Here I thought Masters captured his exasperation and was honest with his feelings about Stuart.

 

And without lessening Stuart's story at all, I thought the parts about The Cambridge Two and "The System" for dealing with the homeless were just as worthy stories.

 

I'm cheesed off with the publishers about this:

 

 

Early on I flipped to the back of the book to check something in the index and instead of finding an index I saw Obituary in big black letters, as part of the book's Read More feature. It spoilt the book for me somewhat, as I read it knowing Stuart had already passed on. For instance, from then on the present tense narrative didn't feel right.

 

In the same way Cosmo seals it's 18+ section (so a friend of mine says...) they really need a spoiler tag of their own

 

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I thought there were a few more replies:

 

Hazel

 

Ade,

 

[spoil]

Doesnt it say in the first chapter that 'before Stuart stepped in front of a train...' and thats how his story begins? I read it knowing he had died and I hadnt flipped to the back. I am sure it tells you in the first chapter. [/spoil]

 

#8 13th June 2006, 08:09 AM

Adrian

 

Hazel,

 

 

[spoil]:

So it does. I obviously missed that, and it's a good job I didn't write that stroppy letter to the publisher. I'd better keep my {mouth shut smiley}[/spoil]

 

#9 13th June 2006, 08:46 AM

Hazel

 

Ade,

 

[spoil]Unless you thought that stepping in front of a moving train wouldn't kill him? Anyway, glad to have saved you from 'stroppy-letter embarrassment'. [/spoil]

 

#10 13th June 2006, 11:10 AM

Adrian

 

Haze,

 

[spoil]I suppose the real question is, did he kill himself? Even given the Open verdict, the sympathetic portrait of his death by Masters, and Stuart's own words about not having a second suicide in the family, I can't see it being anything but that. Perhaps it's best for his family that we'll never know. [/spoil]

 

#11 13th June 2006, 11:57 AM

donnae

 

Meg, you were so right about the frustration of these spoilered conversations. Looks like another book to add to the TBR pile so I can read this thread properly.

 

#12 13th June 2006, 12:03 PM

Adrian

 

Unfortunately I can't see any way around it. Two threads, one spoilered and one anything goes? Two or more members take discussion offline to PMs? No spoilers?

 

I think what we have is the only possible solution. The spoilered posts Hazel and I have been having concern only one point about the book, and came about due to me missing something that was in the first chapter of the book. But spoilers are the only way we could say anything about it without without giving the game away. See, now I'm only adding to the allure.

 

The book is well worth reading.

 

#13 13th June 2006, 12:09 PM

Hazel

 

I'll try to make this as ambiguous as possible!

 

Ade, Stuart seems like a really impulsive person who acts immediately on things that pop into his head, so I think it was an idea in his head in a brief moment of madness and seemed like a solution to his frustrations.

 

#14 13th June 2006, 12:15 PM

Adrian

 

Ade, Stuart seems like a really impulsive person who acts immediately on things that pop into his head, so I think it was an idea in his head in a brief moment of madness and seemed like a solution to his frustrations.

 

I agree.

 

There is another forum member called Ade. I don't know if he/she is still a poster but it might get confusing

 

#15 13th June 2006, 01:01 PM

megustaleer

 

There is another forum member called Ade. I don't know if he/she is still a poster but it might get confusing

Ade was a frequent poster until the end of December, mostly on the various 'chain' games.

 

Perhaps his New Year's resolution was to give up Chain-posting?

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And I just found a couple more

 

donnae13th June 2006, 01:03 PM

Originally Posted by Adrian

Unfortunately I can't see any way around it. Two threads, one spoilered and one anything goes? Two or more members take discussion offline to PMs? No spoilers?

 

I think what we have is the only possible solution. The spoilered posts Hazel and I have been having concern only one point about the book, and came about due to me missing something that was in the first chapter of the book. But spoilers are the only way we could say anything about it without without giving the game away. See, now I'm only adding to the allure.

 

The book is well worth reading.

Leese, Momo and I had a spoilered conversation on When We Were Orphans, so I understand why this has come about. Please don't let my comment hinder your discussion, it was a light-hearted dig

 

It does seem to make a book more intriguing when lots of "spoilering" is going on .

 

Flingo 11th September 2006, 11:38 PM

We discussed this tonight at our RL book club, and it is interesting to see how many of the same themes we picked up on tonight as were discussed here.

 

I found Stuart an intriguing read - although certainly not a "comfortable" one (seems to be a theme with my reading at the mo!).

Originally Posted by Adrian

Great idea for the narrative, to tell Stuart's life backward and also include details of the biographer's problems in actually writing the book. Having said that, I wouldn't want it to start a trend, as I can see it becoming the lazy writer's way to get the word count up. Here I thought Masters captured his exasperation and was honest with his feelings about Stuart.

I agree entirely - a year or so on, and it doesn't seem to have done yet. Interestingly it also doesn't seem to have started a trend into why people become homeless, which is a relief.

Originally Posted by Kats

There were parts that could have stood a bit more emphasis and quite a bit more description, but it's a book I'm glad I read.

We discussed this earlier as well - and felt that it seemed Masters ran out of steam a little when he couldn't blame one factor or point for Stuart's life. It became more descriptive than evaluative at the point he was resigned to that fact.

 

We also discussed the relevance of the illustrations. None of us felt they added anything to the text - they seemed a little too childish to be worthy of comment as well. I would have been happier with them if they had been drawn by Stuart (the inclusion of his own ephemera really helped), rather than by Alexander Masters.

 

I think that this is one of the few books I was really glad of the "extra's" for - the letter from Stuart's teacher brought tears to my eyes.

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There is a trailer on (I believe) ITV at the moment for the televised version of this book. At the moment it only says "Coming Soon" which is extremely annoying.

 

I absolutely adored this book, sad as it was, and don't feel that any TV programme will be able to do it justice. I guess I will have to just wait and see.

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There is a trailer on (I believe) ITV at the moment for the televised version of this book. At the moment it only says "Coming Soon" which is extremely annoying.
Next Sunday, September 23rd (not sure of the time, but probably 9.00pm).

I caught the end of a discussion about the programme on a radio4 review programme over the weekend. The opinions that I heard were favourable, so I will probably watch it.

May need tissues.

 

ETA: It's on BBC2

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I saw a trailer for this last night, and it does look good, though the actor playing Stuart, doesn't look quite right - maybe too young, too pretty.

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I saw a trailer for this last night, and it does look good, though the actor playing Stuart, doesn't look quite right - maybe too young, too pretty.

I agree - I thought exactly the same. Still we shall have to wait and see!

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I thought they made a pretty good job of the TV version
After being the first to mention the TV adaptation on this thread I then went and forgot it was on! I watched Miss Marple instead which was good fun but I am annoyed with myself :rant:

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I taped it, and once I have watched it, I am happy to send the tape to anyone who still has a video recorder and wants to watch it!

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I watched the TV adaptation of this before reading it so I knew what to expect, the BBC version was very trus to the book and I think portrayed both of the characters extremely well. The book was amusing and distressing at the same time. Definately worth checking out

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