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Stuart: A Life Backwards

Alexander Masters

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (Review)
Book Details

Publisher : HarperPerennial

Published : 2006

Copyright : Alexander Masters 2005

ISBN-10 : PB 0-00-720037-4
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-00-720037-5

Publisher's Write-Up

Stuart, A Life Backwards, is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator ('a middle class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander) and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this is Stuart's confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With humour, compassion (and exasperation) Masters slowly works back through post-office heists, prison riots and the exact day Stuart discovered violence, to unfold the reasons why he changed from a happy-go-lucky little boy into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality, with a fondness for what he called 'little strips of silver' (knives to you and me). Funny, despairing, brilliantly written and full of surprises: this is the most original and moving biography of recent years.

'Stuart Shorter bursts off every page of this extraordinary book .'

Daily Mail

'A moving, sad, witty book.'

Sunday Telegraph

'Funny, honest and deeply moving.'


'..for an account of incest, violence and despair, it’s really very funny.'

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Sarah (310809) Rating (9/10)

Review by Sarah
Rating 9/10
Stuart: A Life Backwards was the winner of the 2005 Guardian First book award and it’s a well deserved title; if anything just for its sheer originality. Biographies had never really appealed to me before, as I tend to associate them with celebrities. But this book caught my attention for two reasons. The first was that fact that Stuart wasn’t a celebrity or remotely famous in any way (apart from being alluded to in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph). And secondly the fact that he was actually homeless. I was naive enough to never consider the fact that homeless people had lives before they ended up on the streets.

Master’s tells us the story of Stuart Shorter, but in the most unique way; backwards. He traces his life back from the homeless man he was when he first met him, to the 'happy-go-lucky little boy’ of twelve,' recounting his numerous spells in various prisons and attempted suicides, as well as his troubled childhood. But it’s not just an account of Stuarts' life. The whole book is sprinkled with the blossoming friendship between Stuart and Alexander; a friendship of two people from two very different walks of life.

I did feel lulled into the false sense of the whole story being backwards, but I was quick to realise this wasn't the case. Although essentially the main story line of Stuart's life is told backwards, there is also a second storyline running throughout. Occurring in a more present tense, this story highlights the growing relationship between subject and author. To start with, it can be a little challenging to keep up with what is happening where, but as you get further into the book it becomes easier to follow.

Stuart is a strong and realistic character from start to finish; credit is due to Masters for writing him so well. He is portrayed so well you can't help but feel instantly connected to him. And this connection grows all the way through the book. As I read each significant event in his life, I felt for him more and more. At times it was even hard to retain the fact that this really is a biography. Some of the events just seemed so surreal and unfortunate that I struggled to believe they could all happen to one person in their lifetime. I often found myself thinking it had to be a work of fiction as no-one could possibly be this unfortunate.. But the use of newspaper clippings and photographs helps to bring the reader back to the realism of the book and the understanding that these things really did happen.

By the end I felt so privileged that this stranger had let me into their life so willingly. A definite must read, if only for the humour.
Sarah (31st August 2009)

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