This book was one of false starts for me.
I bought it many years ago, fully intending to read it promptly but, like so many things in life, got distracted and prevaricated it out of my memory. I then lent it to somebody or other and that was that.
I then discovered that it had been dramatised, with the estimable messers Hardy and Cumberbatch. Cheapskate that I am I tracked it down online but the laptop was a poor viewing experience and, much as I was ennoying it, I bailed.
However, this third, fourth or maybe fifth time of trying, I picked up a new copy and read it in two days. What a fine book it is.
The first book (bloody brilliant debut again, dammit) by Alexander Masters tells the story of Stuart Shorter. Homeless, chaotic, drunk, addicted, abused and frequently incarcerated, Stuart is nevertheless sanguine, philosophical and an obliterator of the middle-class perceptions of the homeless.
After meeting Stuart during the arrests of the managers of a homeless charity Stuart and Alex become unlikely friends and the idea of a biography is born. An original and powerful one too.
Starting with the present day it tells both the story of their friendship and interactions and, chapter by chapter, Stuart’s own life in reverse, seeking to excavate the reasons for Stuart’s life.
This is no simple story, and there is nothing simple in either Stuart’s life, nor of any homeless person. There is no dread epiphany, no sudden event, no pivot point. These people do not operate in any space or time that we ‘fucking nine to fivers’ might recognise.
Stuart can elucidate on all matters drunken, drug addicted, violent and of the streets. His life of beatings, abuse, fights, smack, blackouts and arrests is trauma after trauma, yet his (regrettably not entirely) unique standpoint offers a lens through which we will never look, but Masters allows us second hand view.
Masters’s comic cadence, structural cleverness and freedom in giving Stuart’s voice a full reign, tells a crushing and forgettable person’s life to an audience who walk past the Stuarts of this world every day.
It won’t make you less scared of homeless, nor less suspicious, cynical or nauseous. But it will make you less keen to judge, and readier to see the person behind all the shit and swearing.