Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Book Review – Stuart: A Life Backwards

Read this book! Right there sorted.

Okay I’ll tell you more shall I?

Stuart Shorter was a junkie, alcoholic, homeless guy who lived around Cambridge. His life had descended into the chaotic of the long term homeless, the violent and the abuser of substances. However he did start climbing back up the greasy pole and got a flat, got off the streets and tried to get a new life. Sadly just about the time when Stuart was getting it together he tragically was killed when hit by a train. Whether he was trying to kill himself as he had attempted numerous times before or if it was just an accident we’ll never know although some evidence is left for you to draw your own conclusions.

This marvellous biography of Stuart is written by Alexander Masters who met Stuart when he was a voluntary worker at various homeless helping centres etc. in Cambridge. Pivotally they are brought together via a campaign to complain about the conviction of Ruth Wyner and John Brock who ran a homeless shelter.

Stuart lets Alexander into his world and provides such insight into the life of the chaotic homeless. Alexander works with Stuart on writing a biography of him, at first in an almost academic way which Stuart describes as “Bollocks boring” on first reading it. It is Stuart who suggests writing it backwards to explain how Stuart ended up where he ended up.

This book should be mandatory reading for anyone in modern Britain. Alexander’s attempts to relate Stuarts life to his middle-class existence and Stuarts insistence that this often is pointless captivates you. Also it is clear Stuart is a decent bloke who cares about others and is a genuine guy so you also want to know how it got to where it did.

This book has it all, belly laughs at some of Stuarts observations on life, bewilderment at how the system we put in place as a society to help these unfortunates seems to continually screw it up so that they cannot escape the cycle they are in, shock at how he as a child was abused by friends, family and those who were supposed to helping him, fear at the level of violence and damage to yourself a person who has had their soul crushed can perpetrate and finally tears when you realise, despite his violent outbursts and criminal tendeancies, this lovely man was so cruelly snatched from the world too early.

At times this book can be hard reading with very strong language and graphic, blunt descriptions of key events in Stuarts life however I do urge you to read it, it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Mark Haddon is quoted on the cover as saying “Bollocks brilliant”. I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.


  1. This sounds like my type of book. I am just sad that he ends up dieing at the end. Sometimes life doesn't bring the happy ending huh?

    Just popping over here to say hello and to apologize for not visiting more often.

  2. this DOESNT sound like my kinda book at all, well not at first glance anyway. I doubt i would have picked it up for a flick if I saw it on the shelf... but the review has got me going, it sounds really interesting. Cheers fella!

  3. Right, I'd better order it!