Saturday, 9 June 2012

On The Edge (Richard Hammond)

--The blurb--
"Richard Hammond is one of our most in-demand and best-loved television presenters. On September 20, 2006, he suffered a serious brain injury following a high-speed car crash, and the nation held its breath. On the Edge is his [...] account of life before and after the accident and an honest description of his year of recovery [...] It is also, perhaps, his explanation of why, as a married man and father of two young daughters, he was prepared to risk all by strapping himself to the front of a jet engine with the power of eleven Formula One cars. A daredevil and a petrolhead long before his association with Top Gear, Richard tells the story of his life as an adrenalin junkie, from the small boy showing off with ridiculous stunts on his bicycle to the adolescent with a near-obsessive attraction to speed and the smell of petrol. After a series of jobs in local radio, he graduated to television and eventually to Top Gear, one of the world's most popular shows, upgrading his car with each step up the ladder. [...] It was whilst filming for Top Gear, driving a jet-powered dragster at speeds over 300mph, that a tyre burst and the car left the track and rolled over, burying him in the earth. He was airlifted to hospital and hovered near death for several days. His wife Mindy tells the story of the anxious hours and days of watching and waiting until he finally emerged from his coma."

--The review--
Ghostwriting is something that some find to be quite a distasteful aspect of the publishing industry: why should so many genuinely talented writers struggle to get into the business while people who cannot string a sentence together get books written for them (which then go on to sell in their thousands or even millions)? The view of some others is that it is good for the economy and ultimately sells books in a time of fierce competition against all kinds of digital gadgetry. At any rate, it is unfair that some genuinely clever celebrities, such as Stephen Fry or Dawn French, who did write their own autobiographies, should suffer from this particular affliction of the celebrity autobiography genre.

Richard Hammond's status as a trained journalist means we can also be fairly sure that he wrote it with only the minimum of assistance from editors. However, two other things that make his autobiography different to others are that firstly he has co-written it with his wife Mindy, and that secondly the 'hook' is a major, life-changing accident (both of which help the book to stand out on the shelf a darn sight more than a collection detailing said 'sleb's latest trip to Tesco). The whole book does not centre on Hammond's famous jet-powered car crash of 2006 (which is good, as otherwise it may become wearying or self-pitying), but rather on his life-long love of speed and quick thrills, from being a small boy and wannabe daredevil teen to chasing his dream career. These differing episodes keep up the pace of the book and maintain momentum and interest in the lead-up to and aftermath of the crash, rather than being a long drawn-out account.

Equally interesting are the regularly alternating thought streams from both Mindy and Richard. The two distinctive voices again serve to add variety and different perspectives on the same situation - and the fact of the two being a husband and wife team also means that On The Edge can appeal to both men and women. Concisely woven and always engaging, we are given insight into Richard's life and situation in a way that is traumatic in some parts (but only because the events themselves are traumatic - not because they have been hammed up by the authors in any way) and restrained in others, giving us the impression that we now know more while also leaving us satisfied that in this age of letting it all hang out there are some details still that they have kept for themselves. Such discretion is rarer and rarer.

Perhaps because of its dramatic content, On The Edge is intense (in a positive way) yet highly readable and at times very funny with it. It would make an excellent Fathers' Day gift as well as a superb choice for others all year round. Definitely better than the ghostwritten output of the latest reality TV show moppet, On The Edge is a gritty, moving and humorous account of a turning point in a life that is of huge fascination to many members of the British public.

Other works by Richard Hammond
Car Science (2011)
Or Is That Just Me? (2010)
As You Do (2009)
A Short History of Caravans in the UK (2009)
Richard Hammond's Car Confidential (2006)
What Not To Drive (2005)

1 comment:

Margaret Tyler said...

I bought this book a couple of months ago and I've lost count of how many times I've read it. Both voices (Richard and Mindy) are beautifully written, open and honest. It's an absolutely amazing story of tragedy and recovery, and I, too, would recommend it to everyone. Wonderful book.