Two works of autobiography today as I couldn’t find an awful lot to say about one of them. I’m not entirely sure why I put Rebecca Front’s “Curious: True Stories and Everyday Absurdities” on my wishlist, as I don’t really know her work too well and haven’t been massively curious about her life. But I did and a kind friend bought it for me for Christmas 2019 (it’s my last book on the main TBR acquired in 2019 – hooray – though I have a couple of older Angela Thirkells to pick up) having seen it on my wishlist. It’s competently written, a mixture of general essays and think-pieces (on being on hold on the phone, etc.) and light items of memoir. She is honest about her anxiety and panic attacks, which is where the true value of the pieces probably lie, giving very good descriptions and explaining why some things can upset her but then be copable with on certain occasions, which is not something I’ve seen in such pieces before. There’s also a sad pet incident which I could have done without, to illustrate something about being grown up.

Guvna B – “Unspoken”

(18 December 2020)

As any long-term readers of this blog will know, I enjoy regularly reading about people’s lives who are different to me, and seeing different experiences, attitudes and families. This book is by a young, Black, male rapper who grew up on an East London council estate – but the piece of his life I had the most trouble relating to was his status as a man of faith. In fact he’s a “clean” or Christian rapper – I’d previously only come across positive but not explicitly Christian rap music, although I’d noted Stormzy’s use of the hymn/gospel song in his “Blinded by your Grace”. I hadn’t realised about this aspect of the book before starting it, so was a little blind-sided by it (this is obviously my problem, not the book’s!).

Growing up on a council estate, the author was conditioned into ways of toxic masculinity through peer pressure and lack of role models within the home for dealing with that. His parents were working too hard and too concerned with instilling values of hard work into their sons to talk to them about emotions and mental health, and the kids out on the street, emotionally stunted themselves, saw any tears or show of emotion as a weakness. This comes out in Guvna B mainly as an inability to process his grief when his father suddenly dies, and in fact the main part of the book is about grief rather than other aspects of toxic masculinity, although he does talk about knife crime and social issues as well.

What he did have was his strict parents keeping him inside and out of trouble, a youth club and youth worker to support him and his faith in God, growing from being taken to church but then accepted by him in his teens, which all work to sustain him. Later, he has two close friends and a wife who are emotionally literate and force him to face up to what he’s missed out on and to work on that aspect. He does constantly reiterate how lucky this makes him, and he also notes at one point that it’s not entirely necessary to have a faith in God as long as you have something to believe in – your family, your work, your football team – although I’m not sure he really believes that. He does not, however, proselytise.

He talks honestly about his inability to cope when his father dies and his monolithic silence and refusal to ask for help – or cry – before that. He is very honest about how going to counselling made him feel and these aspects could be very useful for people to read. He’s big on authenticity and sharing your feelings and feels a deep responsibility to young people, setting up various charity initiatives and podcasts, etc. The worry I have is that, as someone who states he doesn’t read much and can only manage an 88-page book on grief, will his stated audience of the young, disenfranchised Black male work through these 288 pages? Maybe it will be best marketed and shared through a campaign of personal appearances (in whatever form) because he has got a lot of good, positive and practical stuff to say, and it would be a shame to see this book bought but not read.

“Unspoken” was published on 16 March 2021, and thank you to HarperCollins for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.