68. ‘Spectacles’ by Sue Perkins

I bet you thought you’d had the last review out of me this year, huh? So did I, but it turns out that I can read a lot on the Cornwall–Bristol train, and so I’ve managed to finish one of my Christmas presents – Sue Perkins’ autobiography, Spectacles – just before the end of 2016. Phew!

spectacles sue perkins

I didn’t know much about Sue Perkins’ life before I read Spectacles. Obviously I know that she co-hosts my favourite show about cake creation, The Great British Bake Off, and that I’ve seen on her panel shows like QI, but as for her personal life – no idea. Well, this book has certainly filled that gap, as Sue takes the reader on a journey from her earliest years, to the roots of her comedy career at university and meeting her duo-partner, Mel, to her closest personal relationships with family, lovers, and dogs.

The writing is, of course, very Sue, meaning that I read the whole thing in her voice. Occasionally she uses a playscript style to show conversations verbatim (a little like Love, Nina), and she has a wicked turn of phrase that is especially good at capturing people in just a few words, such as ‘man-explosion Goldie’, or her own grandmother: ‘a redoubtable bag of paper-thin skin full of bile, piss and grit’. Obviously there’s humour all the way through (I did snigger to myself at a couple of points, which is quite something for as stony-faced a reader as me), but she also isn’t afraid to confront tragedy and sadness, and she’s good at it. I particularly liked her thoughts about ageing:

“Surely the consolation of getting older, of moving away from youth, is that we can shape our past to our fantasies, so, even if the present isn’t going the way we want it, we can stand back and remember our earlier selves as exciting and funny and daring.”

Perkins’ family takes a relatively central role, particularly in the beginning when we learn exactly how they felt about the fact that she was writing this book. She spends quite a lot of time describing her parents – her data-loving father and catastrophising mother – and this book seems to be a rather sweet opportunity to say some of things that she hasn’t managed to say directly to them, including “I love you”. Perkins also talks about her romantic relationships, often with heartfelt poignancy, but she spends rather more time detailing her adoration for and grief over the loss of her dog, Pickle. I wonder whether, in apparent Perkins-family stoic style, she finds it easier in her writing to go deeper into her relationships with animals than with people.

Spectacles is a warm, quick read which delves into Sue Perkins’ private and public life. It was nice to find out more about her early career (which die-hard fans would already know about), and the person behind the persona.

“I can’t emphasize enough how exhausting it is being me.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

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