I find biographies a bore. For the most part I find them an endless list of things gone by that have significant meaning to the person in question but which to me bear no real semblance of interest in the slightest. There are obviously the exceptions but I find it very difficult to read of one's history and connect. I think mainly because I find it difficult to actively capture the author's voice when reading the work that I really end up reading it in a way that probably doesn't serve the author's story well at all. I'm not willing to completely lay blame on the author for that either as I am fully aware that as a reader I do have an active job whilst reading but I will say that for the most part biographies and I do not really get along.
It was with hesitation then that I read Dawn French's biography, a series of letters, telling her story from her days as an RAF youngster to the last days of French and Saunders to the stories surrounding her marriage to her fellow comedian Lenny Henry for now over twenty-five years. What strikes the reader most about this spin on the biography is that French is foremost in your face as the author. Her voice is all over the work with her endless, 'punctuation-less' sentences joined by her regular catchphrase, "anyway, anyway, anyway...," recalling to each of her loved ones, to whom she writes, the many stories of their relationships throughout her life.
On the whole, Dear Fatty, is like most of French's humour, that is a bit of a mess, in that she meanders around a lot of the time taking her own route to get to the point of any one story; however, that is one of the identifiable features of her unique voice as a comedian. It's an enjoyable mess that manages to identify both the joyous and incredibly sad times in her fifty-so years. And whilst French is very able to find the humour in most stories, even the desperately sad ones as in her final letter to Scottie towards the end of the book, it is the gravitas she is able to create with the sincere and honest observations about the relationships that have brought real times of sadness to her life that ring true the most. For while the humour lightens the mood at times it gets in the way of determining what she is truly trying to say. One is often left wondering what she is hiding when tempting the reader with a sideline joke.
In the end what differentiates Dear Fatty from other biographical offerings is her willingness to truly set forth a chain reaction of memory dominoes which bring her to her last two letters to her father and her partner in comedic crime, Jennifer Saunders. If anything you're struck by simply how normal the seemingly heralded celebrities who grace our screens and airwaves are when it comes to the very human facets of their existence. As French points out in her recollection of her daughter's achievements at an athletics carnival when she recalls the feelings of sheer anger she felt towards an official who had made mention of her presence over her daughter's achievements when announcing winners over the ground's loud speaker. She asks a simple question,
"How dare he sully this lovely, pure, clean, happy moment with the filth of 'celebrity'?!"
And it's a valid question that perhaps everyone needs to ask. For I know I've read biographies in the past with the attitude that what I was reading was written by exactly that, a celebrity, rather than the human so caught up behind it all.