Good Reading : March 2015
Bad Behaviour: A memoir of bullying and boarding school Rebecca Starford At the beginning of Bad Behaviour, Rebecca Starford writes that names in the book have been changed to protect the privacy of the people whose lives are laid out on the page. This was an imperative decision, given the disturbing degree of teenage bullying that is recounted here. It was also alar ming to learn that Starford’s schooldays were over only a decade ago. With the amount of teenage cyber- and physical bullying prevalent today, it’s timely that she shares her story of bullying, which she experienced as both a victim and a perpetrator. Starford was 14 years old when her mother dropped her off at Silver Creek, a remote rural boarding school. The next two years of school life were marked by physical and psychological bullying. Starford’s accounts of the insidious tormenting, backstabbing and dares while attending to her studies and athletic pursuits read like an emotional roller-coaster r ide. The themes that pervade this memoir include the meaning of friendship, speaking up for vulnerable people and for oneself, and the role that family and authority figures play in shaping self-esteem. But at the book’s end, the adult Rebecca’s attempts to find identity and acceptance and to discern meaning from her school experiences seemed to have fallen short. ★★★ RG Allen & Unwin $29.99 Reviewed by Fotini Dangiris GOOD READING MARCH 2015 59 BIOGRAPHY / MEMOIR WOM word of mouth AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR Not My Father’s Son: A family memoir Alan Cumming In 2010 Scottish actor Alan Cumming (Spy Kids, The Good Wife) took part in the popular genealogy TV series Who Do You Think You Are? The focus of his episode was on his maternal grandfather, a World War II veteran who abandoned his family and died in mysterious circumstances. As the documentary shoot gets underway, Cumming grapples with a parallel and more immediate family mystery: his long-estranged father contacts him with an explosive secret, and Cummings is forced to revisit the horrific childhood he endured at the hands of the cold and violent man. ‘Misery memoirs’ are now almost a genre unto themselves, and readers seem to relish a true tale of childhood privation and torment, if bookshop biography shelves are a reliable indication. But Cumming’s book is so much more – and better – than most of these. It’s a witty, heartfelt whodunnit, related by a man traumatised by the brutality meted out to him as a boy; he also recognises that his characteristic resilience (and acting talent) is a product of it. As he digs deeper into his murky family story, Cumming realises he will have to confront his ailing father to find the truth. The documentary film, meanwhile, takes Cumming and his mother on a painful trip into the past where his grandfather’s epic and tragic story is finally told. Not My Father’s Son flashes forward and back in time with each chapter, the childhood episodes related by the middle-aged actor who wryly acknowledges his sometimes fallible memory. Cummings is a charming, chatty narrator and his irrepressible good humour shines through in even the darkest passages. It’s a well-written and satisfying tale. ★★★ Canongate $35.00 Reviewed by Aaron Jelbart Bad Behaviour: A memoir of bullying and boarding school Rebecca Starford AARebecca Starford writes that names in the book have been changed to protect the privacy of the Not My Father’s Son: A family memoir Alan Cumming IIn 2010 Scottish actor Alan Cumming ( Kids,The Good Wife took part in the popular genealogy TV series Do You Think You Are? The focus of his episode was on his maternal grandfather, a World War II RATINGS ★ ★ ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★ RG About Rebecca Starford Rebecca Starford is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and publisher.