Sue Perkins, Spectacles (2015)

Sue Perkins Spectacles Despite being most definitely an autobiography, the comedian (and of course Great British Bake Off presenter) Sue Perkins’ 2015 memoir, Spectacles, begins in much the same way as Anneliese Mackintosh’s short story collection, Any Other Mouth: with a disclaimer. While Mackintosh gave exact percentages as to how much of her writing was factual, Perkins instead writes:

“Most of this book is true. I have, however, changed a few names to protect the innocent, and the odd location too. I’ve skewed some details for comic effect, swapped timelines and generally embellished and embroidered some of the duller moments in my past. I have sometimes created punchlines where real life failed to provide them, and occasionally invented characters wholesale. I have amplified my more positive characteristics in an effort to make you like me. I have hidden the worst of my flaws in an effort to make you like me. I may at one point have pretended to have been an Olympic fencing champion. Other than that, as I say – I’ve told it like it is.” (Spectacles, 2015)

Perkins’ awareness of the fictionalisation of life writing continues throughout her autobiography, including this insightful observation:

“A memoir, after all, is as much about what you don’t shine the light on as what you do. It’s about judicious choices and edited picks. With that much primary and secondary source material, it would feel more like I was writing a biography than an autobiography.” (p. 16)

Discussing her parents’ tendency to hoard items from her childhood (meaning she has been left with a great deal of source material to aid her memoir writing) Perkins here notes the selective nature of life writing. This idea is something which the autobiographer and autobiographical theorist Liz Stanley has discussed in her critical work:

“Auto/biography is not and cannot be referential of a life. Memory is selective: paradoxically, a defining feature of remembering is that most things are forgotten.”
(Liz Stanley, The Auto/biographical I: The Theory and Practice of Feminist Auto/biography, 1995, p. 128)

It shouldn’t be surprising to discover this intelligence and critical thinking in Perkins’ writing, she did study English at Cambridge after all, but it is an unusual addition to a celebrity comedian’s memoir. In some ways, Spectacles feels like it is not just the story of Perkins’ life, although it is both a very funny and terribly sad autobiography; the letter to her dead dog in particular will bring you to tears. Instead, this is also the story of Perkins becoming a writer, something she notices herself when she once again dwells on the fictionality of autobiography:

“A perfect, full circle, the sort of thing writers write about. And I guess I am a writer now and could write that – I could write the perfect ending.” (p. 245)

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