Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright

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Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Not just reminiscences about Two Fat Ladies but a story of a life not always lived wisely but always lived to the full. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN: 978-0340933886

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You might know Clarissa Dickson Wright from Two Fat Ladies, but believe me, that's been but a short interlude in a life packed with spectacular success, failure on a grand scale and a willingness to put herself on the line for what she believes in.

Despite having been born into a family with wealth and privilege it wasn't the paradise it might have been. Clarissa loved her mother, an heiress, to distraction, but her father - an eminent doctor and physician to the royal family - was nothing more than a violent bully at home. He planned that his daughter would follow him into the medical profession, but she had other ideas and decided to study law. It was a battle of wills to get through her education but Clarissa was and remains the youngest woman ever called to the Bar. She seemed to be achieving some measure of success in her own right when her mother died suddenly.

Clarissa has never been one to do things by half measures and when she went off the rails she did it in style. As she later said, if she'd had another £100,000 she would have drunk herself to death, so it's perhaps fortunate that her two million pound inheritance was all squandered before she reached that point. She'd lost her place in her Chambers, who rightly assumed she was no longer interested. The Bar had only ever been a way of impressing her mother and annoying her father - as they were both dead the point had gone too. Still deep in alcoholism she took jobs cooking for various families.

It's greatly to her credit that she managed to pull herself together and became a dedicated member of AA. Clarissa is probably best known for Two Fat Ladies - she was the sidecar half with Jennifer Paterson in the driving seat - and I did worry that this book might be little more than reminiscences about the series published to take advantage of the Christmas market, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

The details about her family life are starkly honest, but told without self pity or even a great deal of emotion; it's simply information which you need if you're to understand what follows. The descent into alcoholism is chronicled, sometimes from the memories of others when Clarissa was frankly unable to remember what happened. There are no attempts to hide the worst excesses - in fact I was left with the feeling that they were flaunted on occasions. 'See what alcohol can do to you.' It might almost read as a case history for AA - Clarissa is a convert to the cause and is evangelical in her support both for the movement and anyone that she feels she can help.

Two Fat Ladies takes up a relatively small part of the book and if this is what you're looking for then you might well be disappointed. I wasn't. The relationship between Clarissa and Jennifer was friendly but not one of deep friendship. There was obviously respect between the two and Jennifer's death was a blow to Clarissa.

More interesting to me was the growing interest which Clarissa had in the countryside and country pursuits which she supported even though she knew that it would ultimately mean the end of her broadcasting career. She's always been steadfast in what she believes in and it's no surprise when she puts her support for country pursuits before her ability to earn money.

I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. The writing is easy and friendly - listen carefully and you'll hear Clarissa's voice talking to you. It's a real page-turner too - definitely not a mere celebrity memoir and more a story of a life that hasn't always been lived wisely but has always been lived to the full.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

For another autobiography which looks at life in the countryside you might like to read Ian Walthew's A Place in My Country. Another book from a cook which has a permanent place in my heart is Elizabeth David's An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.

Booklists.jpg Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright is in the Independent Booksellers' Prize 2009.

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Buy Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright at Amazon.com.


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Grahame Bell said:

for anyone who doubts the veracity of Clarissa's family trauma I can vouch for it's accuracy. Her friends from Cornwall were called on frequent occasions to London to give comfort ( sometimes medical) and support to her mother. It is of great benefit that despite this tragic experience that this lass sees in life helping others as more important than making money but I do wish she could have put aside a little of her principles on that score and used her talent , brains and personality for even greater effect in that quest. GGb