Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review: Dear Fatty

Dear Fatty by Dawn French
3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I lurve Dawn French; 15 points for the Four Month Challenge for an autobiography

From the jacket flap:
"Dear Dad

So, you're still dead. It's been over 30 years and every day I have to remind myself of that fact, and every day I am shocked. I'm not 19 anymore and many things have happened that we haven't shared, so I have decided to write this book for you. I want to remember our time together and I want to tell you about lots of stuff since. So far, it's been better than expected...

With a sharp eye for comic detail and wicked ear for the absurdities of life, Dawn French shows just how an RAF girl from the west country with dreams of becoming a ballerina/air hostess/bridesmaid rose to be one of the best loved comedy actresses of our time.

Here Dawn French shares her story, and in particular with her father who committed suicide when she was nineteen years old. She invites us into her most personal relationships with, among others, her mum and dad, her husband, her daughter and her friend Jennifer.

Dawn reveals the people, experiences and obsessions that have influenced her and that helped shape her comedy creations - including kissing, dogs, grandmas, David Cassidy, teenage angst, school, stealing, Madonna and not forgetting chocolate. She is as open about her fears and sorrows as she is about her delights and joys, and for the first time shares the experience of losing her beloved dad and later finding a tip-topmost chap in Lenny Henry.

From raging about class, celebrity and bullying to describing the highs and lows of motherhood and friendship, Dear Fatty reveals the surprising life behind the smile."

My thoughts: The letters-to-people method was a pretty good way of writing an autobiography. It made it fairly quick to read and some of them are hilarious, particularly the ones (actual or re-rememered, I'm not sure) to celebrities from the young Dawn. My favourite was "Dear The Monkees" where she asserts that, unlike all those other silly fans who have a favourite Monkee, she loves them all the same even though Peter is "the good-lookingest and funniest for me." I have to disagree with her there, I had a crush (approximately 20 years later than hers) on all of the other 3 Monkees, but never Peter. So she and I may have to have a throw-down on that one.

She states and it's true that the book should be called Dear Dad, because most of the letters are to him. It's really touching how she still feels a connection with him, despite his suicide so many years ago. And it makes sense, I can see how she'd want to tell him all the things that have happened since then. The part about his suicide is gut-wrenching to read and it really shows her strength of character and the strength of her family to have come through it and still manage to be such a life-affirming person. She's obviously blessed to have attracted so many "beloveds" into her life - I really envy her all those deep, varied friendships. Made me think I need to work harder with my own beloveds.

The letters to Fatty, who is Jennifer Saunders, are almost all horrendously bad jokes, although there's a great one that sums up their friendship and partnership at the end, as they're just finishing their last French and Saunders tour.

I love how Dawn has such positive self-esteem, a rarity for us larger ladies. She gives the credit to her parents. I also like how she can laugh about her size - she goes on about her shape in a letter to her niece, describing herself as a Weeble or hobbit and wondering about the purpose of "these massive ocean-going buoy chests? I know bosoms are womanly, but these surely belong to many women." I hear ya, sister!

There's a lovely letter describing her husband to her dad, since he didn't get to meet him, with mostly his many virtues but also his quirks and flaws. She writes not so much a love-letter as a thank you letter to her husband, which shows they've had many happy years together and have come through some tough times, too. There's a hilarious one about seeing The Exorcist with her mum. There's a series of very funny, very badly-grammared ones to Madonna, who apparently F&S have a bit of a hate-love relationship with because she constantly refused to come on their show. And the Queen Mum visited their house on the RAF base when Dawn was a toddler and scared the poor little thing (Dawn, not the QM, even though they were roughly the same height) to death! Oh, and she recounts her painfully bad audition to be in the Mamma Mia film - apparently Dawn's singing is actually worse than a cow in labour.

The only minus of the letters is that some of them it's hard to know who the person is. Maybe her British audience knows all of them. And it doesn't really matter. There were just a few where I kept wondering "Who are you?"

The verdict: If you like Dawn French, you'll like this book. I learned a lot about her and now want to see even more of her TV shows and films. I especially have to buy the complete Vicar of Dibley DVD set and have a lovely marathon.

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