It takes one to know one

Stuart: A Life Backwards

By Alexander Masters

One reason why the life of Stuart Shorter is so remarkable is down to the way it is told in this excellent biography. An apparently reluctant biographer, Alexander Masters tells Stuart’s life story in a self-reflexive style, in which the subject criticises the manuscript, and in a zigzagging chronology, as the subtitle suggests.

The form therefore sidles up to the content and seems to say, “I know what it’s like to be this messy, this discombobulated, this uncertain.” It’s a refreshing take on the biography and exercised perfectly by Masters.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at a homeless person in the same way again after reading this book, which does so much to show all the reasons why people end up on the streets and in prison. Masters performs a neat trick of explaining that there is not just one stereotypical route to the streets. The journey is neither absolute, nor for one time only. Taking in crime, drugs and violence, and many more themes from the underworld, Masters shines a light on the dispossessed. In fact, he shows how it’s not an underworld at all – it’s part of our ‘life on top’, with allegiances and cultural trappings. Only, through Stuart’s eyes it is fresh and depressingly complex at the same time.

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