Addiction memoirs are ubiquitous, but a tale of addiction and consequences by the singular Self earns its shock and awe.

One of Britain’s most inspired writers employs his novelistic style in a chronicle of his addictions.

In this hybrid of memoir and novel—nominally nonfiction, although one wonders how a serious addict could recall so much—Self (Phone, 2017, etc.) offers a third-person, no-holds-barred tale of his fascinating life. The author has always worn his influences on his sleeve, so his readers won’t be surprised by this heady stew of J.G. Ballard, Hunter S. Thompson, and Philip K. Dick. Much of the narrative falls somewhere between Tony O’Neill’s drug-fueled ultraviolence and the grungy milieu of the self-destructive, filth-covered addicts of Trainspotting. Self’s hallucinatory journey begins in 1986 with 24-year-old Will, with 57 pence to his name, idly pondering stealing painkillers from a chemist’s shop. The book jumps back and forth through the 1980s as Self gets higher and higher, even while studying at Oxford, “hardly ever breaking cover.” The amount and diversity of the drugs are staggering; consider this nod to Thompson: “multicoloured collection of uppers, downers, twisters and screamers…namely: ten blotters of acid, a half-ounce of Pakki black, four black bombers, twenty-odd amphetamine blues, a couple of Mogadons Mike’d nicked from his mum and a bottle of amyl nitrate.” The prose is consistently spectacular, but the narrative is oblique, portraying the author’s troubled youth in moments and flashes. The supporting characters, while presumably real, are mostly generic with the exceptions of Chloë, the love of Self’s life, whom he ultimately abandoned before he could inevitably hurt her; and Caius, the spoiled junkie who accompanied Self on many of his (mis)adventures. Despite the author’s inevitable trip to rehab, this is no redemption song. From London to Marrakesh to India to Australia and back, Self delivers a hallucinatory, confessional version of his life devoid of melancholy and, mostly, regret.

Addiction memoirs are ubiquitous, but a tale of addiction and consequences by the singular Self earns its shock and awe.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-80-212846-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview