Review: Reveal by Robbie Williams & Chris Heath

ROBBIE WILLIAMS HB JACKET AUG 09 MATT LAM SIM.inddEverybody has that song that defined their adolescence, and Robbie Williams’ Feel, the lead single from his fifth studio album, Escapology, was mine. It encapsulates his struggles to find true love, which was a theme that struck a chord with me, despite being only a teenager, and realistically, in no real hurry to find the love of my life. (The search continues!) Particularly resonant was the line, “There’s a hole in my soul, you can see it in my face, it’s a real big place,” which at the time, I thought, summed up my melancholy perspective of myself in the world. From Feel, I latched onto the second single from Escapology, a song called Come Undone, and the line “So self aware, so full of shit” really struck home, too; you couldn’t find a better way to describe my opinion of myself. And to this day, if both songs are offered as karaoke options, you can guarantee I’ll belt them out proudly. Liking Robbie Williams was never especially cool (for reasons I couldn’t fathom), but then, being cool was never really on the table for me in my youth, so we fit like a glove, and Robbie’s oscillation between brutal self-deprecation and fake bravado made him a figure I could relate to. Whatever music he releases, I will buy. There’s that connection there, forged in my formative years.

Just as important to me as his music was Robbie’s first biography, Feel, also written with Chris Heath. You know how some people say Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was fundamental to their adolescence? That was Robbie’s Feel for me. I savoured the unparalleled access into the thoughts of this grand entertainer. It wasn’t his struggles with alcohol and drugs that impacted me most; it was the demons that constantly resurfaced, telling him he was shit, that his success was undeserved; his insights into how be combatted immense stage fright, and both lusted after his fandom, and despited it, often simultaneously. The book affected me, pure and simple, and I still have my battered copy on my shelf. I haven’t re-read it in a while, but I’ll often skim its pages, which always reminds me of where I was at that particular juncture in my life.

Skip forward more than a decade later, and my almost-thirty-year-old-self was thrilled when Reveal, the sequel to Feel, was announced. And I’m so happy it’s just as raw and honest as its predecessor. The book goes into Robbie’s brief retirement, when his struggles with substance abuse resurfaced, and then his resurgence, with the release of his latest album The Heavy Entertainment Show. We learn about how he has dealt with fatherhood, the precarious beginnings of his relationship with his now-wife Ayda, and how he continues to fight the never-ending battle against the self-doubt that plagues him. Robbie is very self aware, and is entirely cognisant of the new landscape of pop stars, who are moulded on television shows like X-Factor, and how his place has changed, now that he’s a 42-year-old, and a veteran of the industry. His neuroses, however much they have haunted him, have moulded Robbie Williams into the grand entertainer he is, which he both despairs about, and appreciates. Reading Reveal, just like Feel, you understand Robbie is constantly battling himself, and while it would be great, perhaps, if the bad thoughts faded, he wouldn’t have achieved the success he has without those spilt personalities fighting for headspace.

This is a book that Robbie Williams fans will lap up and love. It’s incredibly entertaining, and his dedication to rebuilding his career is utterly enthralling. Oh, sure, it’s not going to win over the haters, but they won’t have plonked down the cash for Reveal in the first place. For the rest of us, the fans, the ones that matter, we’re just delighted to have Robbie back making music, and allowing us further insight into his life. Chris Heath’s book delivers a sympathetic and honest portrait that fully captures the private and public life of this singular entertainer.

Publisher: Bonnier Publishing Australia
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Publication date: September 2017
Produced in: Australia
Availability date: September 2017

Review: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

9781472240750.jpgMaggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death is a love letter to life. It is a luminous, heart-wrenching, uniquely graceful and gorgeous symphony of those moments in life in which our vulnerabilities and susceptibilities come to bear. It is a testament to our perseverance against insurmountable odds, our capacity to survive, to prolong. There is an ever expanding body of literature on coming to terms with mortality, and this memoir ranks with the best. It is certainly one of the most potent.

O’Farrell frames I Am, I Am, I Am around seventeen encounters with death during her life. Some of these moments are near-escapes; many highlight the serendipity of roads not taken, of choices that might’ve been fatal; one of her most devastating evocations is her candid detailing of the difficulties her daughter faced — and will continue to face — because of a condition named anaphylaxis, and the burden this places on O’Farrell as a mother. But rather than wallowing in the inevitable hardships, O’Farrell’s piece is a testament to her daughter’s courage, and a reminder that none of us are alone, whatever our ailment or affliction. We preserve, so often by uncovering and unleashing an inner-strength we didn’t know we possessed until we reached an almost-breaking point, and  by utilising the strength of our loved ones; those who are the rocks in our lives.

I Am, I Am, I Am includes a chapter about an occasion on which O’Farrell was hospitalised, aged eight, with severe encephalitis that left her immobile and incapacitated. Doctors expected her to be permanently disabled, and there is a particular moment, when she overhears a nurse telling another patient that she is dying, that is excruciatingly hard to read. How is an eight-year-old child supposed to process this? More importantly, how is a child meant to come back from such a point, when the adults, the supreme leaders at that particular juncture of life, have given up hope? O’Farrell clearly used this memory — whether intentionally or intuitively — to shape her maternal instincts, which enabled her to better cope with her daughter’s illness. When the nurse closed the door to her room, O’Farrell was isolated, alone; forgotten. It is clear through her writing that her daughter — in fact, anybody whose life O’Farrell has touched — never will be.

I Am, I Am, I Am is a literary  milestone. Totally enthralling, masterful, and passionate, it reminds us that every minute, every second, every heartbeat is a moment to savour, to appreciate, and to enjoy. Maggie O’Farrell is such a gifted writer, and this is the kind of book you could spend hours highlighting sentences and whole paragraphs of. By the time you were done, you’d likely find more highlighted sections than non-highlighted ones. I Am, I Am, I Am is provocative, moving and essential reading. For young, for old, for everyone.

ISBN: 9781472240750
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Tinder Press
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publish Date: 22-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Raqqa Diaries – Escape from Islamic State by Samer

9781786330536“I walk around the city with a broken soul, looking at all the other broken souls passing by. Each pair of eyes that passes tells a different story, a different struggle.”

Raqqa is one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth. The ongoing situation in the Syrian city is both a tragedy and a travesty, and I can barely comprehend the horrors its innocent inhabitants experience every single day.  Books like this one — The Raqqa Diaries by a young man writing under the pseudonym Samar — are so important because they humanize the conflict and devastation. One anecdote, about lost love, is particular heartbreaking, and really struck a chord: “I know that if I am to keep going and stay alive, I must not dwell on the sadness in my heart… How I miss that love of mine. The woman I shared all my troubles with. Now I must deal with everything myself.” We have all suffered heartache, but nothing like this.

This heart-wrenching account of Samar’s life in Raqqa before and after it was taken over by Daesh is raw and powerful. I was left emboldened by Samar’s bravery to speak out and put his own life on the line to expose the truth, and heartbroken by the overwhelming hopelessness of his — and the whole of Raqqa’s   — situation. He reveals Syrians’ continued hopes for change, but also the fear and growing despair that whatever change eventuates might not improve their situation at all. They exist in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

Samar risked his life to break ISIS’s communication siege. His resistance group, al-Sharqiya 24, made contact with the BBC, and a version of The Raqqa Diaries was read on Radio 4’s Today program a year years ago. There is a coldness and starkness to his prose as he lays out the bleak reality faced by his people. There is no need to mask the hideousness of their situation with pretty prose. The bluntness works, and is juxtaposed with illustrations of an almost childlike quality by Scott Coello. The disparity between text and imagery is incredibly effective.

The Raqqa Diaires is in credibly eye-opening and poignant. It should be mandatory reading. It offers rare and remarkable insight, and should not be missed. It will certainly be remembered as one of the most affecting books of the year.

ISBN: 9781786330536
Format: Hardback
(205mm x 145mm x 20mm)
Pages: 108
Imprint: Hutchinson
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Publish Date: 9-Mar-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom