Wednesday, 24 August 2011


I am now reduced to reading celebrity memoir. And worse yet, a celebrity I have never even heard of: Joyce Grenfell. She was, it appears, famous in the 1950s as a monolguist. I can only say: monologuist?

Regular readers will understand from this that my Kindle has not yet arrived in Harare. I am thus reduced to reading whatever I can find on my parents' bookshelves. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem for someone else, as my parents own a lot of books, but unfortunately as my parents'child I have had an entire lifetime to read them. Thus, there is not much left. Thus, Joyce Grenfell.

In a move of striking originality, Grenfell begins her autobiography with her birth, which took place in a very nice part of London. Everything thereafter also seems to happen in a very nice part of London, unless it is happening in a very nice part of New York, or of Vancouver. Grenfell is born into a very wealthy family, and one of the more interesting aspects of this uninteresting book is an insight into the life of someone who does not ever need to work for a living. Her life appears to be a round of nannies and tea parties and dances. Family friends include theatre luminaries such as Noel Coward and Ivor Novello. Call me a cynic, but I'm going to go ahead and suggest that her success in show business may not have been down 100% to sheer talent and drive.

Here's a taster, a comment on her father's military service: “Like many men, he did not enjoy his time in the first world war.” Profound! And indicative of the book as a whole. Indeed, what I found most striking about this book was how very little Grenfell managed to share about her life, while writing a book about her life.

Even poor writers, when writing about themselves, usually manage to provide some insights; but this book is a miracle of emptiness. I wish I could give you some summary of her later life, and even reveal what after all a monologuist is, but I never got past adolescence, having to give up on Joyce Grenfell after the first hundred pages.


  1. Huh. Yep, I've never heard of her either! Sorry to hear the Kindle hasn't quite made it to you yet! And yes, sounds like this was a very profound and informative book about her rise to success. (Joking of course - sorry you have been reduced to books like this!)

  2. It is sort of weirdly fun picking up books I would never ordinarily consider. Maybe I will discover a whole new world of interests . . .