The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan

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The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kate Jones
Reviewed by Kate Jones
Summary: A humorous, light read, which at times surprises by showing glimpses of tenderness.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1786071828

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I had not come across Anthony McGowan's work before reading this book, as he mainly writes for Young Adults. I can imagine his books to be engaging and humorous from the clever way he constructs sentences, and the ironic subtlety with which he uses descriptive details.

The book is set out over a year, and the four sections correspond with the seasons, with each date having a piece of writing, sometimes just a paragraph or so, often just an observation of what is going on around him, or the inevitable faux pas he has found himself committing on that day. For this reason, I found it to be an ideal book to dip in and out of, not necessarily reading in a linear order.

I found myself laughing out loud at the book from the first piece, entitled 'I Love You', which – unexpectedly from the title – is a piece about McGowan's trip to the British Library to work on his writing, where his contraband snack of a banana becomes a useful tool for doodling on. This causes embarrassment when he realizes the declaration of love he has inscribed on said banana, which he has placed in front of a young man beside him.

Many of the pieces are really very funny. In 'The Wrong Transsexual', the humour feels almost inappropriate, which makes it even more humorous, and there doesn't feel any vindictiveness or malicious fun being made about anybody other than McGowan himself in these pieces. The 'character' he names 'Heimlich', for example, whom he describes as a dwarf who is his own doppelganger, is not there simply to provide somebody to laugh at, but merely to raise a side to McGowan's own persona.

McGowan's two children and wife appear in some pieces, and some feature directly his experiences as a writer, such as 'Or Possibly Laos', and I would have liked more of these glimpses into his writerly life.

Just when I thought it was simply going to be a light hearted romp through a writer's year, though, McGowan surprised me by introducing an element of tenderness in the piece 'Home', where he gives a gentle portrait of his ageing parents. I found there was an interesting thread weaving through the pieces, despite them being seemingly disparate: that of his ordinary northern roots, memories of which he often returns to within the book. The most poignant of these comes in one of the longer pieces, 'The Death of a Teacher', where he discovers an old teacher of his has been murdered, and he recalls his memories of school life. The writing here shows that McGowan has more talent than simply making us laugh with his ironic stories of his daily happenings.

In a tiny piece entitled 'Chocolatier', McGowan gives us in the last line a sense of what sums up the whole book: Even as I was doing it, I felt myself to be failing in some fundamental way to be an adult. He doesn't, however, fail to write a book that will ultimately make you smile, and re-read.

If you enjoyed this, you might like I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being A Woman by Nora Ephron

Buy The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan at Amazon.com.


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