For most readers, especially American readers, Christopher Fry is at most just the name of a playwright (The Lady's Not For Burning) rather than a vivid personality whose antecedents are of prima facie interest; thus, this Victorian family history--Fry himself is not born (1907) till nearly the last quarter of the book--remains just that: a rather ordinary English middle-class family history, with neither the wit and dash nor the famous names one has come to expect from the memoirs of literati. Still, Fry's dry, quietly vigorous chronicle--drawing very heavily on letters and diaries--does generate some flickers of fascination and pathos in the rather fatalistic comings and goings of his mother's brothers and sisters, a varied brood deserted by a feckless father and clucked over by a frail, plucky mum. Christopher's Aunt Ada--from willful lass to facially disfigured, lugubrious spinster hypochondriac--is the most distinctive of the homebodies, while gritty letters from roustabout brothers in the Canadian Mounties and the Australian bush provide an odd counterpoint to the prim home front. Prim indeed, since Fry's mother--the family baby--has to leave her home with an adoring uncle and aunt on account of suspected spooning (or encouragement of same in a younger cousin). She soon finds herself in a boarding house, unchaperoned, and then married to something of a replica of her own tippling, directionless father. Events become more emotionally immediate once little Christopher's perceptions ignite--""Memory is a great eccentric, hoarding random moments, trivial anxieties""--and we can look for good things in future autobiographical installments. This prelude, however, requires an unusually sympathetic reader to extract the charm, drama, and idiosyncrasies from the heavy crackle of faded family papers.