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I think I began reading Russell Brand's ludicrously titled book My Booky Wook because I was repelled and rather un-amused by the antics of this somewhat androgynous self created character that kept appearing everywhere I looked on television. He seemed to embody all that was the very stuff of twenty first century celebrity to me. The image he appeared to be projecting was of a very self aware Tourette 's syndrome sufferer who had realised that the market value of his condition was bankable and decided to flaunt it. Even though my initial reaction to this freak with a hair style that would probably win him a single handed yacht race across the Pacific Ocean was negative in the extreme I just had this feeling that I was either missing something very funny here or that he may have some redeeming features and I had judged him too harshly. After all, it's a big planet and there's plenty of room for everybody, loads of space for all shapes, sizes and peculiar dispositions and even hair styles.
And I must confess to being something of a serial reader; it may be a throwback to my childhood days when I used to collect Trump Cards with an obsession that I would have been reluctant to admit. I seemed to spend an enormous amount of my time obsessing about owning full sets of things like Star Wars figures; I could never be happy until everything was complete. Perhaps this is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, if so I am a self confessed OCD sufferer but so far it appears to have done me no harm and rendered me generally harmless to others.
Back to serial reading; I had previously read Alan Carr's and Jonathon Ross's biographies and went back to the same shelves in my local library to look for more of the same. Right now I have no idea where all of this will end. I haven't a clue where that point in my reading will occur when I might say, 'Enough! I've read all the biographies of comics and quirky celebrities I want to! I now know enough; time to move on.' But with Mr Brand I really wanted to find something to like, I honestly wanted to know more and through my reading discover something of substance that I could identify with. I wanted to give this strange looking guy perhaps the chance he deserved to prove to me that he was more than a shallow freak of modern times; more than another hollow celebrity surfing along on the big wave of reality TV and empty fame.
So I began to read My Booky Wook with a mind that was truly striving to be at once open and non judgemental (I even did my best to disregard the title!). He opens with the fact that he has been booked into a clinic somewhere in the USA by one or more of the people who are more or less his minders. Someone from his entourage no less, a group of agents, gophers and hangers on that is surely an indispensable attribute of modern day celebrity status. And he wastes no time telling his readers that he is an addictive personality. Nowadays whenever I see this label invariably used by a celebrity to describe their particular weakness or weaknesses I cringe a little and it becomes a real effort to listen or carry on reading. The phrase seems to have become a passport and a lame excuse for any number of personal failings; particularly among the rich and famous. I don't deny the existence of the phenomenon; I just get tired of hearing it trotted out with such monotonous regularity. It seems that the unbearable pressures of being famous and rich beyond the dreams of avarice inevitably give rise to some kind of addictive behaviour or massive over indulgence. At this point it is essential for the poor afflicted celebrity to write his or her first autobiography and take the opportunity to explain everything away with the magic phrase, 'I'm an addictive personality!' Then the hapless reader is perhaps expected to sigh with relief and quietly exclaim. 'Phew! That explains everything; he's a good guy really, I can relate to that! He's just suffering from an addictive personality!'
The lovely Russell does not disappoint on this score; true to form and fashion he wastes no time at all in trotting out his impressive catalogue of addictions. He rapidly emerges as more of an addictive athlete than a personality as he cheerfully confesses to prolonged abuses of alcohol, crack cocaine, smack, marijuana and any number of other 'life enhancing' substances. He happily relates how he managed to overcome his addiction to alcohol by convincing himself that he was always more addicted to the notion of his own fame and success than any mere substance. He reveals that he also persuaded himself that he never really had a drink problem, more of a drinks problem; so it simply became a question of not having that next drink. It's very difficult to be convinced by this until you remind yourself that this man must surely posses a monumental ego and endless preoccupation with the promotion of himself to the exclusion of almost everything or anyone else around him. Even during these early chapters when I was still trying very hard for some kind of empathy with Mr Brand I knew I was fighting a losing battle.
For a while I genuinely wondered why Brand was going into such detail about his addictive nature and lifestyle, The question soon gets answered however; all of the foregoing is merely a preamble to what he really wants to share with us; a punch line if you like. Naughty Russell has been just bursting to tell everyone out there that he is a human rabbit; a sex addict who just can't control his carnal desires. In normal circumstances I would find it quite easy to sympathise with someone driven by the urge to convert every passing fantasy into the reality of sexual release with whoever was near at hand. It can't be that much fun when it's that obsessive. But Russell relates his long lasting addiction in such a smug and self satisfied manner (I could easily see him sniggering and gurning) that it's almost impossible to view it as anything more than part of just another stand up routine. He hasn't even booked himself into the American clinic he finds himself in during the early part of the book. He proudly declares that this has all been arranged for him by concerned minders. He goes to great lengths to persuade us that he just doesn't want to be there other than as an opportunity to gather more comedy material. He asks us to believe that the clinic staff confiscated a copy of the Daily Telegraph he arrived with because it contained a picture of the Venus de Milo yet allowed him to keep his copy of the Sun with its page three stunner of the day!
After a while I began to almost ignore the bizarre confessions, the one liners and peppering of pseudo Essex lingo that he appears to include in a rather vain effort to constantly remind the reader that he's a really cheeky chappy from the home counties after all. If you filter out all of the dross what remains is a rather sad history of personality disorder in the making, There is a lot more to Russell Brand than the lovable rogue, pushing the boundaries of acceptable comedy than he might want us to see. And a lot of what he is telling his readers is far from funny; most of it is very dark and quite worrying. In fact, as I waded through this book and learned to ignore the comic scenery I was left with a profound impression that the cheeky Mr Brand may be in need of more professional help than might be provided by an American clinic for rehabilitating addictive personalities. The clues are there in his childhood and latter years; an absent father, a mother's boyfriend who apparently despises him, sexual abuse, self harming, failure at a number of schools and a whole litany of other bizarre behaviours. Strangely, one aspect of his childhood that I found really worrying was the fate of his pets and other small creatures that came under his thrall. Every time he introduces a new animal there is a growing certainty that it is going to perish through some act of perverse cruelty or chronic negligence on his part. It very soon becomes rather painful and repetitive reading because he invariably relates all of their deaths or miseries with a rather sadistic glee that left me cold; it just wasn't funny Mr Brand! Interestingly and perhaps most revealing he gives the reader many clues about how his mind is working in a lot of seemingly giveaway remarks that often appear at the end of his chapters. Chapter 5 in Part One ends with the rather confusing:
"I remember hearing the first reports of the Heysel tragedy*. It was strangely comforting to me that the world should be so fucked."
On the subject of Topsy, a favourite pet dog of his that was forbidden to sleep in his bed by his mother's boyfriend as a punishment for one of young Russell's many transgressions.
"I evidently had a lot of anger and hate in me about this because I would perch at the top of the stairs and lure her to come up - 'Topsy! Topsy! Topsy!' Then, when she would slink nervously upwards to the forbidden terrain of the upper floor; I would suddenly become Mr Hyde. 'Oh dear, Topsy,' I would declaim, in a rather arch manner, 'you know perfectly well you're not allowed upstairs' before cruelly kicking her back down to the bottom again, where I would rejoin her and give her a sympathetic cuddle, regretfully muttering, 'Oh Christ! Were you kicked down the stairs? This is terrible.' That's quite fucked up, isn't it?" You bet it is Russell!
At this stage I feel I should make some kind of apology for a review that seems to have transformed itself into a rather damning indictment of a celebrity many people may find very funny and entertaining. I would forgive anyone who had got this far and decided I was being too harsh on the author, even narrow minded. I never set out to perform a character assassination on Russell Brand or even persuade others that his book wasn't worth reading. On the contrary, I would highly recommend My Booky Wook but with one major proviso; I would urge the serious reader to see behind the laughs and one liners; see what lies beneath. I freely admit that the book is well written and Mr Brand appears to have a very good command of the English language. His erudition is often very impressive and I never got the feeling that the prose was written by an anonymous ghost author as is often the case. It actually sounds like Russell Brand talking in an intelligent and articulate manner for almost all of the time. As I finished the book I asked myself if the author was aware of what he had really achieved with My Booky Wook. Even the title tries to play it just for laughs but I have no doubt that this autobiography epitomises a play within a play. It reminds me of a child and an adult watching the Simpsons; it works on more than one level and only the adult may be aware of this. Right now I'm left with the conclusion that Russell Brand has pulled off a multi level coup of comedy and pathos or simply told us more about himself than we ever really wanted to know. On balance, I'm erring towards the latter.
I read the Hodder and Stoughton hard copy version of the book priced at £18.99.
As a footnote, I have started compiling a list of celebrities who have confessed to having consensual sex with domestic vacuum cleaners in autobiographical novels. So far there are only two entries, Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand. Quite a coincidence given recent news about unsavoury messages on Andrew Sachs' answering machine regarding the veteran actor's granddaughter.
*The Heysel Stadium disaster (often simplified to Heysel or the Heysel Disaster) refers to the deaths of 39 (and injury of some 600 more) people, mostly fans of Juventus F.C., before the 1985 European Cup Final held in the Heysel Stadium, Brussels. The disaster is one of the most high profile and one of the worst cases of football hooliganism in European and world football.