Friday, April 03, 2009

Dear Fatty, by Dawn French


Ever since Jennifer Saunders' awesome success with Ab Fab, I think it's been assumed that Jennifer was the more natural writer of the comedy duo French and Saunders. I have long wondered when Saunders would get bored with writing for television and turn to books. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that Dawn French is the book writer.

As the introduction says, this is more a memoir that an autobiography. Each chapter is a letter to someone important in French's life; some of the letters are out and out jokes, addressed to people like the Monkees and Madonna. Most of the letters cover French's early life growing up.

If you're looking for lots of gossip and tidbits about The Comic Strip Gang, the Ab Fab cast, and a host of others, you won't find that much. No gossip or titillation here. Jennifer Saunders, the Fatty of the book's title, remains quite mysterious and enigmatic. I get the impression that she's a quiet rock of common sense, someone you can talk to when you have a problem, compassionate and yet rather reserved. Dawn's husband, Lenny Henry, is described in greater detail. But this is all at the end of the book.

The over all tone of the book is that of Dawn finally letting go of the grief at losing her father to suicide some thirty years ago. French was only 19 at the time. A great majority of the letters are addressed to her father, with the last one saying that she must now say goodbye to him. Only in one of the letters does French express a brief flash of anger at her father for his taking his own life, and the dreadful grief it caused.

At fifty, it's time for French to end her grief and get on with life. To 'let go' as the saying goes. She has lots of plans, and as far as French can see, the future looks great. So the memoir has very much an upbeat feel to it, even though it is very much a book about grief and growing up.

The way Dawn French writes it here, she enjoys life very much, and is surrounded by a lot of love. She also writes very well and is, as you'd guess, a good story teller, adding in lots of detail for comic effect.

Dear Fatty shows Dawn to be the Chaucerian half of French and Saunders. She's humane, bawdy and funny. Forgiveness is important to her, so is seeing the best in people.

Now, when will Jennifer Saunders write a book so we can find out more about her inner life?

One last thing: On Dawn's first trip to Australia in 1981 for the Adelaide Festival, she was shocked by the attitude of Australians to the Aboriginal population. Her driver spat at an Aboriginal and said they were good for nothing. When she further investigated she found that, even amongst people in the arts, the same attitude prevailed. Shame we had to have such a bad reference to Australia.

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