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'I was born in 1939. The other big event of that year was the outbreak of the Second World War, but for the moment, that did not affect me.' In the first instalment of Clive James's memoirs, we meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney. His adventures are hilarious, his recounting of them even more so, in this -- the book that started it all ...'You can't put it down once started. Its addictive powers stun all normal, decent resistance within seconds. Not to be missed' Sunday Times 'All that really needs to be said to recommend Unreliable Memoirs is that James writes exactly as he talks, which is all his millions of fans could wish' Evening Standard

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780330264631
ISBN-10: 033026463X
Format: Paperback
(197mm x 130mm x 12mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: Picador
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 11-Sep-1981
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


US Kirkus Review » "A huge best seller in England," we're told - which must mean either that critic James (First Reactions, p. 956) is a media celebrity over there or that the un-prettified adolescent-memoir genre (raunchy, self-deprecating) is still something of a novelty to the English. In any case, US readers - no strangers to the masturbation/ acne/inferiority-complex routine - will still find some engaging quirks in these crisp, smartsy recollections of growing-up in Sydney, Australia. Born in 1939, James had an absent father (a POW) and then none at all (a plane crash when James was five). The result was "an absurdly carefree upbringing" by his nervous, poor mother: pre-teen James was a "force of destruction" - wrecking the neighbors' flowers, knocking out street-lights, ineptly wearing a homemade mask-and-cape as junior gang-leader ("Only lack of opportunity saved us from outright delinquency"). Then, however, came puberty and more social activities: the Cubs, a mutual-masturbation phase ("I was queer as a coot"), agonies as a slow-developer in high school ("you can die of envy for cratered faces weeping with yellow pus"), panic over penis size ("In a class full of cock-watchers, I had to keep something between my shrinking twig and a hundred prying eyes"), success as the class clown, and the onset of heterosexual horniness. Fairly diverting material - but James self-indulgently provides more detail than most readers will want: e.g., on lapses in hygiene ("the snot supply," accidental bowel movements). And only the final chapters - about his gawky college awakening to literature and art ("I was not yet fully divested of the impression that E.M. Forster's principal creation had been Horatio Hornblower") - are consistently fresh and funny. Intermittent amusement, then, as tedium and arch self-regard alternate with genuine insights and vividly-evoked youthful stumblings. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Clive James

Clive James is the author of more than thirty books. As well as his memoirs, he has published essays, literary and television criticism, travel writing, verse and novels. As a television performer he has appeared regularly for both the BBC and ITV, most notably as writer and presenter of the Postcard series of travel documentaries. He helped to found the independent television production company Watchmaker and the Internet enterprise Welcome Stranger, one of whose offshoots is a multimedia personal website, In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins memorial medal for literature.

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Poetry Notebook by Clive James

Poetry Notebook

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Sentenced to Life by Clive James

Sentenced to Life

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