I’ve been making my way through (what I’ve been calling) the random-criteria-reading-challenge this year, and have been getting down towards the criteria I have to deliberately seek out to fulfill. Which is all to explain why I read a memoir. “Memoir” was on the list, so I set about to think what memoir I might actually enjoy. I may be unreasonably prejudiced, but I tend to expect memoirs to be terribly dark and grim and depressing (because people with happy lives don’t tend to write memoirs…) So when I remembered Julie Andrews had written a memoir, that seemed perfect—a happy life, right? Well, Home, a Memoir of My Early Years turned out to have some darker notes than I expected, but I still found it much more readable than most memoirs I’ve heard of.
Julie begins with the stories of her parents and grandparents (in true classic novel fashion), but moves relatively quickly on to her own life. Her family life is turbulent, with her parents’ bitter divorce and a possibly dangerous stepfather (who never got quite as horrible as I was briefly afraid he might). Next to her family story, though, we also have the story of her beginnings in singing and show business, first in vaudeville and British pantos, and then on to plays. Her career is challenging at times but overall on a positive strain, and the book goes on through her first marriage and two famous roles on Broadway: in My Fair Lady and Camelot.
One reason I was hopeful about this book was that I love Julie Andrews’ fiction book, Mandy (and it will be interesting to reread the story of orphan Mandy, knowing more about Julie’s life). So I know Julie’s a good writer and I think (from my limited experience with memoirs) that this was a good memoir. I found out, though, that I’m not a good memoir reader. I already had doubts about the typical subject matter of memoirs, and this book made me realize that I have a problem with the memoir style too.
From my (again, limited) experience, memoirs tend to be written in a very distant way, summarizing whole periods of a life. We get “I took many wonderful walks with Tony,” rather than one walk with dialogue, as we would have it in fiction. And even though I know intellectually that these are real events being told by the person who experienced them, memoirs feel less real to me as I read them than most fiction. Memoirs tend not to be immersive the way fiction is.
All that said—I liked this book. I found it interesting to learn more about Julie Andrews’ life, and the stories of Broadway and vaudeville were often entertaining and funny. I wound up listening to my soundtrack of My Fair Lady, after all the stories about it, and I have a new appreciation for all that goes into a play. If she wrote another memoir, I’d probably read that too—especially since this one ended with something of a cliffhanger, just as she was about to go off and film Mary Poppins.
I didn’t love this book, but that wasn’t Julie’s fault. I’m just not a memoir reader. If you are, you’ll probably like this one just fine!
Buy it here: Home: A Memoir of My Early Years