A British memoirist and former artist gathers quirky personal essays about embarrassing personal predicaments in which “good intentions f[e]ll short.”
In her often amusing second book, Carew, whose first book, Dadland, won the 2016 Costa Biography Award, unabashedly highlights her unfortunate knack for attracting—or being attracted to—all manner of “mishap and misadventure.” She begins in 1976, the year she “bunked off school [and did] badly in my A-levels.” She flew to Toronto, where she met up with a friend named Ian, with whom she hitchhiked to Texas, where they made plans to travel South America in a VW Beetle they named Horace (“you give names to cars when you’re nineteen”). While on a camping trip in Lake Tahoe, the pair encountered a hulking former mercenary named Animal who showed them “bullet holes in his biceps and the scars on his chest” and made them flee, “too terrified to look back.” In the late 1980s, Carew careened into a long-term marriage with a New Zealander she had only met weeks before in London. Following their union, the pair flew to New Zealand. There, she stumbled into a short-lived career as a waitress and unknowingly ran into actor Sam Neill at a friend’s dinner party. Then the author’s peripatetic inclinations led her to Tunisia and, later, India, where she befriended local guides, one of whom adopted her husband as an “uncle,” tasking him with a proposed visit to the British internet girlfriend he wanted to marry. Carew’s misadventures also included many blunders at home in Britain, where she and her husband eventually settled: playing matchmaker for two “disaster-prone” friends; botching attempts at becoming a poet; and taking up gardening only to find that the act transformed her into a “constant murderer.” As the author chronicles how she all too often “ma[d]e a hash of [things],” Carew’s occasionally outlandish essays serve as witty reminders that laughter is very often the best—and sometimes only—defense against human foibles.
A charmingly eccentric sophomore effort.