Thursday, 29 March 2012

Book 24 of 2012: Stuart: A Life Backwards

I'll admit, until I read Stuart: A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters, I'd never even heard of the book, since then it seems like it's everywhere (honestly, every charity shop we went in to on Saturday had a copy on its shelves). I got it as part of the Stranger Than Fiction series with ten other books (which I'd picked up mainly because of two or three titles which appealled to me in the set).
It's told by man who worked with the homeless and came to know a homeless, drug-addict named Stuart Shorter through a campaign to release two homeless shelter workers who had been imprisoned due to the sale of drugs taking place at the shelter they ran (despite their attempts to involve the police). Masters tells Stuart's story backwards, starting with the man as he was at the time that Masters knew him, then works backwards towards his childhood in an attempt to discover what it was that made Stuart into the man he became. It's an approach which Stuart requested himself, wanting the story to be presented as a murder mystery type story.
It's really not the sort of book that I would've chosen to pick up myself. As I said, it wasn't one that I'd heard of before and I wasn't sure what I would think of it when I started. As it happened, I found it quite compelling and finished it in just a couple of days. I suppose I probably wouldn't have picked it up because I wouldn't be so sure about the subject matter. A book about a homeles man, his drug problem, his chaotic life, it's not the sort of book I would normally seek out to read.

I honestly think that if it hadn't clearly been about a real man, I wouldn't really have believed it. If it had been presented as fiction, I would have probably thought it was unrealistic. That said, it was really interesting, if that's the right word to describe it. It certain made me think about homelessness and the people you see on the streets in a different way. I try to be as accepting as I can of things but it can be really easy to forget that there's a whole history which has led them to that point. This book demonstrates that really well.

I was a little dubious at the beginning when I read about how the story was told backwards. I couldn't really see how it was going to work. In actual fact it wasn't told entirely backwards, there were little jumps back to the present. There were a couple of times when I found it a bit confusing but I adjusted quickly.

It was fairly easy to guess what happened to Stuart as a child, there were little hints all the way through, but that didn't lessen the tragedy of it all any more. It made me feel like there was another story in there which could have been told. If that was what led to Stuart's issues, what caused those of the person who caused Stuart's. It's just made all the more tragic by what happened to Stuart at the end (and beginning) of the book.

I'm not sure whether it's a book that I'm likely to revisit in the future, as I said, it's not really the sort of book that I would normally pick up and read. One thing that did feel a little bit superfluous were the cartoon pictures with little captions underneath. They weren't featured in the book with any sort of regularity and I just didn't really appreciate them.

It has been adapted into a TV drama featuring Benedict Cumberbatch which I would quite like to see, I'd be interested to see how they made it work. I don't remember it being on when it first aired, but I suppose it wouldn't necessarily have stood out to me as something I'd normally watch.
"Of course everyone thought it must have been suicide. There was a bitter, pessimistic satisfaction in thinking that his life had been melodramatic and tragic to its last split second. But in fact there was no good specific reason to believe that it was."
(Page 290)

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Let me know what you think. :-)