Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Cliche in Autobiography

I have been reading On The Edge by Richard Hammond as background research for my dissertation (which is an investigation of celebrity autobiography and the misery memoir). Hammond is a famous British television personality - most famous for shows like Top Gear and Brainiac, Science Abuse but also for the near fatal car crash and subsequent brain injury that he sustained whilst filming. I chose to read Hammond's autobiography because like many others I have developed a soft spot for him - I was endeared by his quirky, humorous and down to earth presenting style and the fact that he comes across as being reasonably intelligent. I was, however utterly disappointed by his book. It seemed to me that he hadn't given anything much of himself in the work, his writing seemed to consist of one cliche after another. I became heartily sick of hearing how grateful he was to his family and how lucky he is to have recovered. whilst I am not doubting his sincerity or trying to diminish his gratitude, I was however left with the feeling of having just read a glorified thankyou card rather than an autobiography. Hammond is very vague about his childhood and gives little away about what he was really like before his accident.

It seems that a lot of writing these days - especially autobiography relies very heavily on cliche - I wonder if it is a form of laziness - publishers want to get the books out quickly whilst the market is ripe - so they don't take the time to really work on them in the way that a novelist or biographer might. Or is it that it is too easy to get published these days? Celebrities don't become famous for their writing skills - so should we expect them to be able to write to the same high standard as a novellist or biographer? Or has the "Dumbing Down" (to use a cliche) occured as some would have us believe, in response to public demand. Do the readers of today prefer a more conversational, less literary writing style?