This week I read We Can’t All Be Astronauts, by Tim Clare. Just like Joey D’s Submarine, I feel obliged to say at the beginning of this review that I know Tim, although I feel I know him better now than I did before I read his book!
The memoir makes for a compelling read as Tim stuggles towards his life long dream of becoming a published author, while his uni friends and colleagues breeze past him in the publication race. Conversely, you as the reader know that Tim’s dream will be realised because you are holding a published book, and without that you wouldn’t know about his struggle at all…It’s a little bit like watching something about the Titanic – you already know the ending but the story’s interesting, so you don’t switch over. In this case, it’s the race that matters, not the finish line.
Although it is a memoir, it doesn’t follow a linear narrative, choosing instead to move about in time. I enjoyed this approach as it kept everything fresh, as well as making the successful encounters more of a surprise, as they weren’t all at the end. Some of the stories told are funny, some are insightful and a few are really sad, such as the one where Tim’s grandfather dies in the car en route to the holiday destination.
There were two things I realised about the vignettes in the book. One is that Tim’s personal dialogue is always witty, concise and thought through. Knowing Tim, I can believe that 99% of the time, the dialogue was true, but as Memento taught us all, “Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car.”. Personally, I have trouble remembering what someone said to me ten minutes ago, let alone months or years.
The second thing is that hindsight is always valuable, and Tim’s approach to some situations was frustrating. Many people feel uncomfortable in social situations, and knowing that other people feel awkward can make it easier for you to deal with. In the book at least, Tim suffers from severe depression and that will make everything ten or even a hundred times more difficult than it should be. Walking into a pub on your own (with your friends on the othser side) will seem like climbing Mount Everest. I still found what seemed to be wilful self destruction frustrating at times.
I thought it would be weird to read a book by a friend, which features other friends, but it actually wasn’t. Far from feeling like a stolen journal entry, I giggled at nickames and drunken nights out, perhaps more because I know the people that were involved. The few celebrity sightings were placed at welcome points too, such as Amy Winehouse trapped in a human cage. Although it can be difficult to inject your own writing style into a memoir (or a review, for that matter) he does it very well through description – of scenes, of people, of emotions and so on. The Amy Winehouse scene stands out for me, perhaps because it made me realise that she is a human being. Not that I’m constantly chasing after her in my Shogun with my telephoto lens in the passenger seat, but celebrity publications have cast her in demon drug addict/voice of an angel roles for so long, I forgot she gets scared and happy and sad, just like everyone else. She does have horrible tattoos though.
We Can’t All Be Astronauts is compelling. I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to finish it, as it clocks up over three hundred pages and I didn’t begin reading it until I had recovered from Latitude, on Wednesday. Luckily, I found that it had such a nice pace that I finished it on the Friday evening. Bonus. I am definitely looking forward to a fiction book – perhaps something about dog faced boys, in the fantasy genre?