Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand
|Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: The memoirs of Jo Brand, a former psychiatric nurse who yearned for a showbusiness career and became one of the age's most popular stand-up comedians.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: October 2009|
|Publisher: Headline Review|
Born in Hastings in May 1957, after leaving Brunel University with a degree in social sciences, Jo Brand unsuccessfully applied for a research job with Channel 4 on a series about racism, then worked for a time as a psychiatric nurse at the South London Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital. But the lure of showbiz proved too strong, and stardom in stand-up comedy soon beckoned.
Much of this memoir is about her early life, from a south-east London childhood, schooldays and rebellious adolescence to student and nursing days. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes about the usual brushes with parental authority, often related to staying out too late or going to the wrong places, and being chatted up by less than desirable young (and not so young) men. She emerges as a cheerfully shambolic character, quite philosophical about being asked to leave her job in the civil service, not unrelated to having had too many cheap beers at lunchtime one day and falling asleep and dribbling at her desk afterwards, matter-of-fact about her less than stellar exam results - let's just say the marks D and E were good friends of mine.
A self-confessed unashamed natural scruffbag, she tells us that her room was always a complete tip with overflowing ashtrays, records and CDs scattered everywhere, and old cups with mould in them. (If you're reading this over a hastily-grabbed breakfast or coffee break, I'm sorry). On the subject of dressing, she makes the very valid point that high heels may look elegant, but are useless for running in – and there is many an occasion when a woman may need to be swift on her feet. Her insights into life on the wards, naturally the most serious part of the book, make interesting and sometimes poignant reading.
It's probably fair to say that the majority of people picking up this book will be keen to know what makes her tick as a comic, and how 'the Sea Monster' started out as a stand-up comedian. That is crammed into the last two chapters, beginning with an appearance at a rather sleazy Soho nightclub in the summer of 1986. I get the feeling this is only 'Part One – to be continued', as the last page had finished a little abruptly almost before I knew it.
It's amusing enough, cheerfully self-deprecating and told in the deadpan style that anyone would expect after having seen her on the box. How, she asks in the first chapter after describing a typical appearance onstage at Loughborough University, did she ever get there when she could have been working in a library or pushing a pram around the park?
Although it makes a good light read, it didn't strike me as the funniest comedy memoir I've read. Fans of hers will certainly love it, but I felt there was something a little flat about the whole tone of these pages that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Dawn French's recent title had that kind of effervescent bubbly quality throughout that made it difficult to put down. That same quality, it struck me, somehow tended to be lacking here.
Our thanks to Headline Review for sending a copy to Bookbag.
If you enjoyed this, may we recommend the above-mentioned Dear Fatty by Dawn French, or Dawn French: The Unauthorised Biography by Alison Bowyer.
You can read more book reviews or buy Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.