Morrissey Autobiography

Morrissey presents his case with palpable bitterness in a book that offers validation in the end.

Bitterness and revenge inform this eponymous autobiography, or at least large chunks of it. Morrissey disses his bandmates, his record label, the press and the judges of the High Court, and he does it with incisive and bombastic logic. So much so that by the end the reader feels obliged to skim any more detail regarding the court case over the royalty splits among the Smiths:

Yes, time can heal.  But it can also disfigure … If the Smiths’ split was designed to kill me off, then it failed. If the Smiths’ court case was a second attempt to kill me off, it too must fail.

I was a Smiths fan but I came to them with the release of The Queen is Dead, which, fittingly, Morrissey believes to be the first complete album from the band. I have also enjoyed Morrissey’s solo output over the years. Reading this book took me back to listening to the Smiths and to Morrissey and, for the first time, to conceding that his solo back catalogue is equal to his recordings with the Smiths.

I wanted to read the book because of Morrissey’s gift as a lyricist, and the wonderful three-minute vignettes that he creates. His prose writing does not fail in this regard. He is sharp-tongued and funny – and every page gives a great quote.

However, the book opens in a very impressionistic, exhausting voice, which, if it had been sustained, would have made it unreadable. I felt that I needed to come back to each paragraph and stare until I could see the meaning hidden within the words:

Fields are places in books, and books are placed in libraries. We, though, are out here in the now, unchecked and ungoverned.

Finally, however, paragraphs made sense and stories started to unfold and I found the tales of the early Steven Morrissey the strongest and most interesting part of the autobiography, particularly when he writes about his schooling. His descriptions of his primary and secondary education will resonate with those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s:

No schoolteacher at St Wilfrid’s will smile, and there is no joy to be found between the volcano of resentment offered by Mother Peter, a bearded nun who beats children from dawn to dusk, or Mr Callaghan, the youngest of the crew, eaten up by a resentment that he couldn’t control.

Once he launches into the story of the rise of the Smiths, Morrissey presents his case and we are invited to judge. He is somewhat guarded but his sense of bitterness is palpable and he shows his disdain for his ex-bandmates by never agreeing to a Smiths reunion.

Morrissey famously had many run-ins with the press, who equated his art to his life. The story of him being branded a racist by the NME is well covered. Clearly Morrissey has chosen to write his own story and protect his legacy, and it is understandable that he would wish to put his case, but perhaps a more detached point of view might have been more convincing.

Merely being published by Penguin Classics has exposed him (and Penguin) to mockery in the UK press, but you have to admire the certainty that he shows regarding his own importance in the pop and cultural pantheon.

This is a book of parts and segments. There are a few placid anecdotes about Siouxsie and David Bowie and we get a sense of the difficulties for young pop bands starting out and getting ripped off by the adults supposedly positioned to protect the interests of the talent – an old story and wearing in the end. The book becomes more interesting when, after having spent his venom on his court case, Morrissey begins to describe the turnaround in his career. Do we not enjoy a redemption story as Morrissey CD singles releases reach the Number One spot in the charts denied to the Smiths? Morrissey’s excitement touring in Scandinavia is palpable: the size and youth of the audience provide validation and relevance to a middle-aged pop star. Readers can share his joy as he feels more secure in his artistic legacy:

Peace came at last with Vauxhall and I, streaming out in a lavish flow and leaving me stupid with smiles. A last sun warms, as if it had always been awaiting its chance.

For this reader and fan, the section detailing Morrissey’s solo career and recordings served to remind me that he is a significant popular music figure, who survived the break-up of his band and went on to greater achievements. I came away from this book with a few films and recordings I wish to track down, a renewed sense of the depth of the Smiths’ and Morrissey’s back catalogue and the poetry of the three-minute stories he told to music. The Smiths and Morrissey are constant earworms and Morrissey has convinced me in Autobiography that the law is an ass, and that he was the Smiths.morrissey

Student Reader of the Month for April

Ellie . . . . . .yr 11

How often do you like to read?

“I like to read as often as I can. I typically finish a book every month but sometimes when I have free time I can finish a book in one sitting. In between reading new books off my extensive list I go back to my favourites and re-read them. ”    

What do you like to read?

“ I like all types of books, especially tearjerkers, but the ones that stand out to me are ones that include a strong or controversial theme, including crime and racism. Books that I can’t put down are my favourites, the kind that keep you guessing and make you want to read ahead to find out what happens,so you have to cover the next page with a piece of paper to stop yourself.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“At the moment I am reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn which has already become one of the best I’ve read (even though I’m only half way through), but the one I have to mention is “Forget Me Not” by Anne Cassidy. I picked it up in a public library when I was around 12, and I have read it again and again since. It tells the story of a teenager named Stella Parfitt who must look after her alcoholic mother while she tries to hide from the Media who are hunting her down as they believe she is guilty in a case concerning their neighbour’s lost little girl. The book takes many twists and turns and every time I read it I get surprised. It is a young adult fiction, but I don’t think I will ever get tired of it. A must read for crime and mystery lovers.”







Staff Reader of the Month for April

Lynne Smith . . . . . . .English, Literature and History teacher

How often do you like to read?

“I am reading all the time! Whether it is novels for work, books of my own choice, the Economist, the Financial Times . . . . . I like catching the train to work so it is a great chance to read.”


What do you like to read?

“I love reading novels, whether the classics or something new; I have been reading more non-fiction books lately which has been really interesting. After going back to Sweden and Germany over the summer I have been trying to include more German Literature and Scandinavian fiction to keep working on my Swedish! I also enjoy a variety of newspapers/magazines: The Financial Times, The Economist etc. Of course I also enjoy reading my student essays?!


List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

Just one? That is such a hard question. One of my favourite novels is One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I studied this at uni and it was quite different to anything I had read before. One of my favourite non-fiction texts is “German Genius” – a really interesting book on Germany’s influence on science, philosophy, music, art ,economics etc




The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt

The two Hotel FrancfortsThe Two Hotel Francforts is an elegant novel of individual concerns set against a background of desperate times.

In Lisbon in 1940, two American couples meet up in the chaotic city as they join other exiles desperate to flee to the United States. The story is narrated by Pete Winters, one half of a middle-class expatriate couple fleeing their comfortable life in Paris:

The reader might have observed that to the conversation recorded above, my wife contributed not a word. I can assure you, however, that she was listening. I could tell by the way she ran her pearls through her fingers, like worry beads

Of all the ironclad arguments I had made against her staying in Europe, the one she had the hardest time refuting was that she was Jewish.

The Winters meet the Frelengs, Iris and Edward, bohemian sophisticates and independently wealthy, and their schnauzer, Daisy. Edward’s interest in him intoxicates Pete, who quickly adapts to a new and tantalising lifestyle while his wife languishes in their Lisbon accommodation. Iris Freleng befriends Julia, seemingly to protect her frailties but in reality covering up for much more.

As Pete becomes entangled in Edward’s fantasies and expectations, he looks at his own history and the story of his marriage. Behind her torpor Julia remains an enigmatic figure, much discussed in the novel, but barely through her own words or actions.

Edward circles around Pete and inveigles him into his world and the two begin a relationship. The time that they can have together is determined by Irene, who seeks to shelter Julia from the implications of the closeness of the two men. Pete gradually realises however that Irene and Edward have been down this path before, that he is one in a line of many, and that the Frelengs need him in order for their own relationship to thrive.

Pete is smitten and becomes quickly dependent on Edward, at which point the power switches in the relationship. Iris tries to gently advise Pete about how he should behave and to whom he owes his loyalties, but Pete is too obsessed to listen. He tells us the story of Julia and their courtship and their life together in Paris, but is too wrapped up in himself and his own obsessions to consider the impact of his own behaviour upon his wife.

Pete’s and Edward’s assignations, accompanied by Daisy, distract us from the real story, which explodes in the last chapters of the book, when Julia encounters her aunt Georgina, an important figure from her past, another exile, and seemingly the family black sheep. Julia flees the hotel lobby and runs to her room, rather than speak to Georgina.

From Georgina’s memoirs:

Much as I might wish the best for Alice, [Julia] I could not tolerate her … My mistake, I see now, was to think that she had the goods to lead the life I longed for her to lead – that exciting life of the aviatrix, the brave lady lawyer, the saloniste – when really, like her mother, she was mediocre through and through. In my own eagerness to nurture a young version of myself, I had given Alice more credit than she deserved.

Her aunt’s arrival in Lisbon finally spurs Julia out of her lethargy, and the consequences are shocking for both Pete and the reader. How can we have ignored Julia and her situation? Would this have happened if Pete had been paying more attention, rather than him being dismissive of his wife?

Julia’s actions now offer Pete redemption, an offer he seizes, and Leavitt ties the pieces up nicely in this well thought out and crafted novel of constraints, morals and behaviours, secrets and restraint. In this elegant and mannered novel Leavitt pushes forward themes of individual gratification and concerns against a backdrop of desperate times as thousands of refugees with Jewish background clamour to get on the ship that will take the Winters and the Frelengs back to the USA and to safety. I will not be the first person to think that Leavitt is the successor to E M Forster in style and themes; this could almost be Forster’s lost World War II novel.

David Leavitt The Two Hotel Francforts Bloomsbury 2013 PB 272pp $29.99

Student Reader of the Month for March

Georgia. . . . .yr 11

How often do you like to read?

“I like to read as often as possible; reading for me is an escape and helps me relax.”  

What do you like to read?

“ I love any kind of fiction books that are either wildly different to my life or quite similar,     which gives me new perspectives on my own life.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“ Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss is an amazing book, if you are looking for an escape from your boring life.       



“The Harry Potter” series by J.K.Rowling is an amazing series and is the reason why I’m             addicted to reading. Even though the series is quite long, I would highly recommend it to anyone!

“I am Malala” isn’t a fiction book but a biography about an amazing ,inspiring woman who is my age, fighting for her and all girls’ rights to education and feeling safe in their own country. Makes you feel her emotion and how lucky you are to be able live in such a peaceful country.”



Staff Reader of the Month for March

Michael Jongen. . . . Library Manager @ SSC 2016-

How often do you like to read?

“I read every day and generally am reading three books at a time. Working in libraries I get to see what people are reading and new books every day.”

What do you like to read?

“I am very eclectic in my reading. As a librarian I think my job is to read widely to reflect the broad taste of what Library users are reading. I need to ‘know my product’ in order to help people with their choices. I love a good story.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“Emma by Jane Austen is my favourite book by my  favourite author. I was introduced to Jane Austen by a great teacher when I studied literature. Jane Austen wrote her novels in the early 19th century and her books were once dismissed as ‘women’s interest’ because she wrote about domestic life and marriage. However we now know that history should reflect everyday lives as well as great events and famous people. Emma was adapted into a wonderful film called ‘Clueless’ and transposed to a modern day LA. It is essentially about the battle of the sexes and I find it very funny.”



ADAM JOHNSON Fortune Smiles.

fortune smilesThis is a collection to return to, to fully explore the ideas and themes and revel in the boldness of the writing.

When I read The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize) I was convinced that I had been given an insight into the bizarre world of North Korea. Johnson seemingly had uncovered the truth about that sad nation from the snippets of reported fact and conjecture available.

The publisher’s blurb for his newest title, Fortune Smiles, a collection of stories, boasts that it will ‘take you into the mind of characters you never thought you would meet’, and it does.

These are compelling stories, which demand the reader’s attention. Each of the six has the impact of a novel and I had to leave time between reading them to allow for the impressions to subside.

The powerful first story ‘Nirvana’ is futuristic in its setting, and contains concepts and ideas worthy of William Gibson. Johnson enables us to see the hope in the bleakness when writing about the engineer who has created a hologrammatic president (Obama?) in order to while away the hours as his quadriplegic wife sleeps in her iron lung and dreams of Kurt Cobain:

He adjusts his collar and cuffs, runs his thumb down a black lapel as if he exists only in the moment before a camera will broadcast him to the world.

‘Mr. President,’ I say. ‘I am sorry to bother you again.’

‘Nonsense,’ he tells me. ‘I serve at the pleasure of the people.’

‘Do you remember me?’ I ask. ‘Do you remember the problems I’ve been talking to you about?’

‘Perennial is the nature of the problems that plague man. Particular is the voice with which they call to each of us.’

‘My problem today is of a personal nature.’

‘Then I place this conversation under the seal.’

‘I haven’t made love to my wife in a long time.’

He holds up a hand to halt me. He smiles in a knowing, fatherly way.

‘Times of doubt,’ he tells me, ‘are inherent in the compact of civil union.’

‘Hurricanes Anonymous’ takes us into a dystopian landscape and only as we read on do we realise the story is set in the present, not in the future, as Nonc, part Native-American, accompanied by his young son, searches for his wife in a world of refugee camps and military occupation in the aftermath of a hurricane.

The third story, ‘Interesting Facts’, is indeed interesting as Johnson switches gender to tell the story of a dying unpublished author who watches as her husband starts an affair. We find out that her husband has used her unpublished material to write his own alternative story, ‘Dark Meadow’, which is also the title of the fifth story in this collection. Her husband has also published a novel about North Korea. This story plays with the earlier ‘Nirvana’ and riffs with more possibilities for the couples as they struggle with the concept of ‘in sickness and in health’.

The author describes her second unpublished novel:

To ratchet up the tension, I had a sexual predator live next door named Mr. Roses. My husband came up with the name. In fact, my husband became quite enamored with this character. He was really helpful in developing Mr. Roses’ backstory and generating his dialog. Then my husband stole this character and wrote a story from Mr. Roses’ perspective called ‘Dark Meadow’. I can’t even say the name of this novel without getting angry.

‘George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine’ is set in the present but deals firmly with the past. Hans, now retired, lives in the shadows of the Stasi prison he once ran. He is a self-deluded, yet sympathetic, character who has rationalised his own past and whose wife and daughter have left him. Hans is compelled to return to the prison, now a museum whose guides are former inmates, and to justify the regime he supervised. Blind to the injustices committed on his watch, he is adamant that the inmates were criminals and that he managed a just prison. In this story the punch is strong in the last paragraph and illuminates a kind of madness.

In ‘Dark Meadow’ we are introduced to a man guilty of thoughts that most of us would condemn in the harshest terms. Unlike Hans, he is not self-delusional; he is in control of his thoughts and actions. He is an evil man who tries to avoid committing evil and we are given a strange insight into his logic. This story is not written in a way that provokes any sympathy with its narrator. It is dark, again with a powerful finish, and yet we may understand while not empathising …

The Cub is the younger sister, a ten-year-old. Sometimes she walks to school on her own. The Cub often stops to examine the flowers in my bucket, but she never pulls one out.

I don’t have a dungeon or an ankle monitor. I don’t follow ice-cream trucks. I don’t even have the Internet, which is God’s gift to child sexual exploitation. You have to understand that I have never hurt anyone in my life and that I am the one who gets wounded in this story.

But I will admit this now, because this is going to be a certain kind of story: the Cub activates.

‘Fortune Smiles’ is set in Seoul, where we follow two defectors from North Korea as they try to make a life for themselves. It is the most hopeful and amusing story of the collection, and a love story that begins rather than ends. In a surreal conclusion, Sun-Ho, one of the defectors, floats off dreaming of drifting back to the past. His companion DJ stays to seize a new beginning, both choices encompassing the broader themes of this collection.

These are amazing stories: the reader needs to take time to digest each one before moving onto the next bravura piece. The writing is lovely, the ideas and concepts astounding. It is a collection to return to, in order to fully explore the ideas and themes and revel in the boldness of the writing.

Adam Johnson Fortune Smiles Doubleday 2015 PB 320pp $29.99

Reviewed in Newtown Review of Books by Michael Jongen


Slade House and other book reviews

Recently I reviewed Slade House by David Mitchell for the Newtown Review of Books.

The chapters – more like interlinked short stories – move along in chronological order, with different narrators joined by time and place. They can be unreliable witnesses, and the wise reader will be looking for clues immediately. Those who enjoyed The Bone Clocks will come to this book for the guest-starring appearance of one of its characters (here Doctor Iris Marinus-Fenby) and references to others, but there is more than that to tease fans. This is gorgeous genre writing and plotting, featuring characters worthy of our attention, care and loathing. Lean writing by Mitchell and the plot-driven story may compel many readers to read it quickly through to the end.

Slade House where everyone just keeps disappearing! I have added the book to the SSC Library collection


Student Reader of the Month for November


Renee  yr9

How often do you like to read?  

“I like to read as much as I can. I normally read of a night just before bed, on the bus, and  during class when there is no work to be done.”


What do you like to read?

“ I personally prefer books that fall under the ‘Adventure’ and ‘Mystery’ genre, because they are thought-provoking and action-packed; but occasionally I do like to read a poem or a historical story.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“One book that has influenced my life today would probably be ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ saga by J.R.R Tolkien and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini. This is because they have given different points of views on life. ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ is one of the many answers to the question “Is there anything out here besides earth? If so who?” Whilst ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ portrays a true dystopian view on how people (in particular women) are treated in our world today. It is based on true events that have happened and are still happening in our world today, and gives the idea that there are people out there who are worse off than us.”






Staff Reader of the Month for November

Anna-Lise Wallis . . . . . English teacher at SSC since 2007

How often do you like to read?                                                                                            “I love reading but these days tend to mostly read news sites like The Age. I also spend too much time on twitter!”

What do you like to read?

     “At the moment I am going through a Scandinavian crime fiction stage and especially enjoy reading Henning Mankell and Hakan Nesser. I am reading the latest book in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, even though it is not written by the original author.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“One of my favourite books of all time is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez”. It opened up a whole new world of Latin American fiction and magical realism, which I still love.”                                                                                                   

spider-girl-435                       one_hundred_years_of_solitude