Book reviews – Stuart: A Life Backwards


Alexander Masters, Fourth Estate

ISBN 0007200366, £12.99


“I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ – why
my diary should not be interesting,” writes the unreliable
fictional narrator Mr Charles Pooter, a city clerk, in the
introduction to George and Weedon Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody,
first published in 1892. Indeed, Mr Pooter, indeed, writes Graham

One hundred and thirteen years later we have a biography of Stuart
Shorter – a nobody: an ex-homeless, ex-junkie, hostage-taking,
campaigning, abuse-surviving, care leaving, knife-wielding,
psychotic, (and now) dead nobody. But a nobody, nonetheless.

It is also written by a nobody, but one who is clearly destined to
become somebody (although Stuart has him marked as “a middle class
scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander”).

Masters’ first book is a neatly written, well judged, engaging and
at times funny account of Stuart – a one-man social exclusion zone,
a nobody’s nobody.

However, the book is almost as much about the frustrations, highs
and bafflements of biography writing and the author-subject
relationship as it is of the remarkable man he met during the
campaign to free the Cambridge Two (charity workers Ruth Wyner and
John Brock) imprisoned for “allowing” some people to exchange drugs
secretly at their day centre. Indeed, Stuart dismisses two years of
research and writing as “bollocks boring” sending Masters back to
the drawing board (well, he is an illustrator as well) in his
reclusive writer’s garret.

The book exposes freely and clinically how rubbish society is at
dealing with or even coping with unconventional people such as
Stuart. He was as much baffled by society as society was by him.
They just weren’t made for each other – unlike Masters and
Although he loses his way a bit with Stuart’s early life, this is a
fine debut. Indeed, it’s anything but bollocks boring.

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