Sunday, 27 June 2010

Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)

--The blurb--
"David Sedaris moved from New York to Paris where he attempted to learn French. His teacher, a sadist, declared that every day spent with him was like giving birth - the Caesarean way. Inspired by the move, these essays chronicle his life so far, from childhood to his time in France."

--The review--
Openly gay entertainers tend to do one of two things with their sexuality: one is to turn it into a positive thing (à la Graham Norton or Elton John), and the other is to adopt a somewhat self-pitying persona while curiously almost wanting to draw attention to their sexuality, in a way that almost makes you feel as if the person concerned should never have come out of the closet if it makes them feel this negatively self-conscious. Stephen Fry is one of these (judgement based on his autobiography Moab is my Washpot) and to an extent David Sedaris is as well. His sexuality is the first topic of conversation in Me Talk Pretty One Day and the emphasis given in the blurb on learning French in France is perhaps unfairly skewed: it is a thread that runs through the memoir, to be sure, but it's certainly not the focus and it definitely plays second fiddle to Sedaris' quest to 'find himself' (my words, not his) spiritually and sexually (although it's not a sexually explicit book).

I am also usually sceptical about books that claim on the front cover or within spitting distance of it to be hilarious or guaranteed to make you laugh aloud. I can think of only a handful of books that have ever made me do this; this wasn't one of them. The humour was at times quite American and smacked a little too much of trying a little too hard. However, saying this, the episodes where the French classes were described were amusing, even if not of the laugh-out-loud variety. Some of the humour was more dry, more 'British', and this mix of humours really made the memoir a mixed bag.

The structure of the memoir is both original and engaging: while it does follow a loose chronological pattern, it consists of snapshots of the most interesting or important parts of Sedaris' life, rather than giving the reader a blow-by-blow account, which is many ways is very refreshing. Equally, despite my previously ambivalent comments regarding Sedaris' humour, the memoir strikes me as being highly performative, relying heavily on tone of voice, facial expression, and other elements of comedy in order for the text's full potential to be realised. Me Talk Pretty One Day would therefore perhaps work better in some other format than as a written memoir, and it is maybe because of this, as well as the lacklustre ending, that the memoir is a little on the forgettable side.

Despite the high points, then, this autobiography was something of a disappointment to me. I don't know what I had expected but I still felt that I had expected something more than what I got. Still, I'm not usually one to write off an author completely after only sampling one of their books, so away from what is perhaps the amuse-bouche and towards the starter and main I go. If I'm lucky, I'll get as far as cheese, coffee, and dessert.

Other works by David Sedaris
Barrel Fever (1994)
Naked (1997)
Holidays On Ice (1997)
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004)
Children Playing Before A Statue of Hercules (2005)
When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008)

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