Ruby Wax, How Do You Want Me? Review

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Kirsty 1's review of Ruby Wax, How Do You Want Me?

★★★★☆

“I really don't know why I ordered Ruby Wax's...”

Written on: 18/04/2004 by Kirsty 1 (15 reviews written)

Good Points
Funny, honest, raw, surprising.

Bad Points
Is it therapy?

General Comments
I really don't know why I ordered Ruby Wax's autobiography 'How Do You Want Me?' from Amazon a couple of months ago. I don't particularly like Ruby Wax on the small screen and I suppose I had imagined that she had already told me everything I needed to know about her in that loud-mouthed way of hers. I didn't really expect hidden treasures from someone so in your face, you know?



Although I didn't seek her out consciously she is the type of entertainer who does stay in your memory and even I could have dredged up some vague recollection of her father making sausages and Ruby playing all sorts of "wenches" for the RSC in her early career. It seems to be part of the act with Ruby Wax - tell all, tell it straight and laugh at how she had an even more mixed up childhood than you did.



So did she?



Well yep, she certainly does have some bizarre memories of an unconventional childhood that has haunted her throughout her adult life. Her mother would make her wear the most incredible clothes whilst she herself wandered around the house in haute couture. She also had a fixation with cleanliness to the point of insanity and insisted that the plastic coverings remained on the sofas at all times!



The father comes across as more sinister - shouting and screaming and making ridiculous demands of his wife and his little girl. He created a mad house (at least in Ruby's memory) in which life was lived at fever-pitch and the volume was always fully turned up. She doesn't mention the fact that he was hitting everyone until some way into the biography but by that stage it is far from being a surprise. The most startling early revelation about her father is when he spent a whole "parent's day" with her at camp. This amazed and pleased the young Ruby but when it came time to leave " my father said he had a surprise for me, took me to the car, opened the trunk and my mother climbed out. There are some things I will never understand." Indeed.



Ruby remembers life as a small child as the ugly duckling, dressed in those dowdy clothes and "tusk-toothed", she would regularly be pushed off the seesaw to make room for the "cooler" kids. She looks back on her later childhood friendships now with a clarity that can explain her actions in terms of how she would do and say ANYTHING to be popular. She over-compensated and pushed that dowdy little girl to the back of her mind and became the cheeky extrovert to avoid that feeling of not being wanted.



This is the central theme of Ruby's recollections: she began going out with the best looking boys and ultimately became famous as a fairly outrageous comic for the times - all to run from the shrinking little girl inside. She puts it far better than I can:



"Fame fit my particular neurosis like a glove. I craved attention due to lack of it in early life and now I hit a gusher. I understood I was using fame in the same way you'd use a bandage to cover up a tumour."



This is a common enough theme - many people bottle up unhappy and unresolved childhoods in much the same way as Ruby Wax did. However, not many of them become as famous (and therefore as overtly extrovert) and hopefully not too many achieve adulthood with such a sad childhood and relationship with their parents: who knows.



Later chapters are a romp of considerably more fun than the earlier sections, as they deal with the loss of her virginity, her pot-smoking years in the early 60's and making it to England. Her climb to fame is almost certainly down to sheer energy and determination on her part and finally discovering the man who was to become her husband and having her kids are movingly dealt with.



A mental breakdown at the height of her career sweeps Ruby Wax right off her feet and forces her to confront much that she has been hiding from herself for so long. It is here that I began to feel that the writing of this work may have primarily operated as catharsis for her. I had been amazed and impressed by the content of this biography so far but at this stage I took a metaphorical step back.



Have you ever met somebody you vaguely know in the street who proceeds to tell you in WAY too much detail about some intimate operation they have just been through? I felt rather like that: everyone's mental breakdown is the most important mental breakdown isn't it?? Being forced to confront old wounds is an amazing and life changing thing to do for the person doing but it isn't necessarily as revelatory looking in from the outside



I don't want to over-egg this, I just felt that this part of the biography was less interesting than the more fact-based parts.



The biography more than gets back on track though as a stronger and more together Ruby faces the inevitable aging and decline of her parents. She has amazingly kept up her relationship with them throughout some appalling years of poor behaviour on their part and the final denouement will take the reader as much by surprise as it did her







If you have ever seen Ruby Wax on stage or screen then you will recognise the voice throughout this piece of work. No ghost-writers are here. The fascinating mixture of her incessant laughter at the terrible events that changed her world and the spikey, honest and raw portrayal of herself laid bare are quite unique.



The writing style is near perfect for an autobiography and I really believed that she was being as candid and open as possible throughout the work. Sure I had a niggling lack of comfort through some of the "mental breakdown" sections but overall I found this autobiography illuminating, interesting and even surprising.



I shall look at her in a new light from now on.





I paid £3.99 for a new copy of "How Do You Want Me?" from Amazon for this Random House 2002 paperback, but the cover price is £6.99

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