Tuesday, 23 August 2011

An Education - Lynn Barber

I admit I wanted to read this book for two reasons. 1) A couple of months ago, I saw the film version starring Carey Mulligan which ultimately made her more famous than previously, even when she starred in one of Doctor Who's best ever episodes, Blink. I liked the movie, even though it jumped around a lot. The acting was the thing that clinched it for me. 2) An Education, book and movie, are set around the area I live in, so it's amazing to read about what life was like in the 1960's when my parents were growing up (Although, they were still in single figures, they don't remember it much) and even know where they are talking about and what it is like in modern day terms. Let's just say I was looking forward to this book...

Synopsis: When Lynn Barber was the mere age of sixteen, a man in a posh Bristol car offered her a ride home from a club. By saying yes, a long journey began which changed Lynn's outlook on life. This mysterious man charmed her for two years taking her innocence away, taking her to fine restaurants to drink expensive wines, going to exotic places with interesting, richer people than herself, as well as befriending her parents. Lynn Barber writes about her experiences and the devastating news she found out before it was too late, as well as moulding her life back together.

Review: I was expecting so much more than I got. For those who has seen the film and loved it, I would approach this book with caution as it it nothing like the film at all, including some of the finer details. Nick Hornby (screenwriter for the film) changed many aspects of her earlier life, as Barber starts off with, to make her seem less dull and more exciting. She never played cello and the name of the man she met was changed to David from Simon, which is sadly the name of her late husband.
All in all, I don't quite know what to say about this book so this may be short.

I was expecting the whole book to be about her early days and in depth of the two years with Simon. Indeed, they were not. In fact, the mention of the film is only 25 pages long in the second chapter and this part I seemed to relate and engage with the most. The rest of this 183 page book (thank god, it wasn't longer really) is story upon story of her Oxford years, becoming a journalist and the death of her husband which got more tedious and boring as the book progressed. In this bit, however, you really get a feel for what life was like in the affluent middle/upper class and of what Twickenham/Richmond was like then, especially for Lynn as she went to a private school without actually having much money.

Lynn's childhood was in Twickenham, a suburb of London, over the Thames from Richmond. Both, more Richmond however, are wealthy areas where a lot of celebrities and millionaires live, such as Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger, David Tennant. It's also popular for business people, as it's a 20 minute train ride to London Waterloo. Richmond is also one of the safest borough's in London as has been for a while so no wonder Lynn's mystery man was rich and had a very expensive car.

It was interesting to see how this young girl picked the pieces up after nearly refusing a place at Oxford University, a place she'd dreamt of going to marry Simon. We get a sense of how she lived her life fully with a mixture of lovely moments and odd anecdotes, as well as of course sad ones too. You get every emotion in this book.

I've never read a biography before, although my grandmother raves about them, so I don't know if I can make a firm judgement on if this is well written or not. To me it was informal and a little bit soppy in places. Some it was ultra formal, others like she was having a chitchat with you over coffee. It was a little bit up and down but interesting. Mostly. It took me four days to read this, normally a book this size should take half of that. It was slow after the initial chapters of her teenage years and I was bored out my mind by her chatting at times.
The lady herself comes across selfish, irritating and someone I would probably find annoying. However, early on, she admits of her selfish personality, but I didn't think about that too much. It was her whining that made me irritated. She boasts about her various prizes for interviewing and of the places and things she has seen. Alright, it's a memoir, but it was mentioned too often for my liking.

This book is average, it's not spectacular but not completely rubbish. This is great for the non-movie watchers and like me, live in the area she talks about and know about all the names of roads and landmarks around. It was pleasurable for mostly that reason. I also enjoyed looking at the glossy pictures showing her life.
Verdict: Average, although way too much time spent on things not to do with her.

I give it a 3 out of 5

Author's Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/lynnbarber
Pages: 183
Publisher: Penguin Books
Challenges: BBC


  1. Sorry, this isn't a great review but it was so hard to do, I had no idea what to say or how to either. Enjoy anyway.

  2. It's okay, I'm always rather surprised when you elaborate in the comments how the books had certain short-comings but you still give them a mark of at least 3 out of 5.

    Biographies aren't easy stuff to swallow, I should know since I read George Orwell's biography for my senior thesis. It was heavy stuff, about an inch wide, and I plodded on out of duty, not pleasure. I would reckon it depends on the person you're reading about, and the author of the book. Also, whether the time of that person's life that you're interested in was a big part of their life, or not so much. Maybe that will help with the next biography pick?

  3. Thanks for your review. I enjoyed the movie and was curious about the book but I think I'll give it a miss now. Not a fan of autobiographies and if it covers so much other stuff I don't think I'd like it.

  4. Nessie: I think you're right, I've probably read a single figure's worth of biographies in my life, this being one of them. I think it's more that it wasn't what I expected.

    Belle: Yeah, I think that's wise. This isn't a perfect adaptation, it's just based on the events. Apparently, Nick Hornby, the screenwriter, published the script made into a story so maybe try that?


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