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13 September 2023

From Clive Myrie to Danny Cipriani: new books reviewed in short

Also featuring The View From Down Here by Lucy Webster and So To Speak by Terrance Hayes.

By Michael Prodger, Will Lloyd, Sarah Dawood and Ellen Peirson-Hagger

Everything is Everything: A Memoir of Love, Hate & Hope by Clive Myrie
Hodder & Stoughton, 320pp, £22

In this “memoir of love, hate and hope” the television journalist Clive Myrie, the son of Jamaican immigrants who arrived in Britain in the early 1960s, looks back at his achievements – from local radio in Bristol to Tokyo, Kosovo, LA, Paris, Ukraine, and the News at Ten desk for the BBC – and ponders: “all this, despite being black”. What his race has given him, he says, is a sense of what it is like to be an outsider.

For someone who has made a career of reporting, Myrie had an inauspicious start; at four, in his hometown of Bolton, he was completely mute. He has made up for it since, with his current ubiquity and soft berths on Mastermind and presenting Italian travelogues underpinned by emotionally gruelling stints reporting from Bangladesh, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, perhaps, he comes across as a phlegmatic type who relates everything in an uncomplicated style, whether that is nearly being shot by a Taliban fighter in Kabul over two eggs, receiving a congratulatory message from Jim Davidson on his Mastermind appointment, or the fight of his two half-brothers to avoid Windrush-scandal deportation.
By Michael Prodger

Who Am I? by Danny Cipriani
HarperCollins, 336pp, £22

At the peak of his celebrity, Danny Cipriani would sleep with three different women a day. The former rugby union player seduced “everyone from porn stars to girls I meet at the coffee shop”. If that sounds weird, exhausting and the opposite of dull, then so is Cipriani’s autobiography, Who Am I?

In the late Noughties, Cipriani was the most unorthodox fly-half in England, a maverick who loved his own talent more than his coaches and fans did. According to him, England picked players on the basis of how quickly they got back up after a tackle, rather than their rugby ability: “Surely it’s more important what they do when they’re actually on their feet?” Elsewhere, Cipriani accuses a five-player “mafia” of running England into the ground before their disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. But the standout moment comes when he endures a five-day magic mushroom trip that ends in the rehabilitation clinic the Priory. There, our hero decides to become a better man. As far as rugby biographies go, this is an unusual book, written by an unusual player. It bristles with vitriolic revelations. With it, Cipriani makes more of an impact on the game than he ever did on the pitch.
By Will Lloyd

[See also: Richard Osman’s bland Britain]

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The View From Down Here: Life as a Young Disabled Woman by Lucy Webster
DK, 208pp, £16.99

We rarely hear disabled voices in the public sphere, let alone female ones. These perspectives are seldom sought out or understood, which is why Lucy Webster’s memoir is so enlightening. In The View From Down Here the journalist explores what it’s really like to be a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy in Britain today. Moving beyond the conversation on ableism, which is centred around physical needs, Webster delves deeper into the psyche of exclusion. She explores topics such as body image and dating, and looks at the intersection of ableism and sexism. Webster challenges the status quo on what it is to be sexy, a good mother, a supportive partner and a best friend, and questions mainstream feminism’s “girl boss” mentality where women must be fiercely independent to feel empowered.

In a book that is at turns both devastating and light-hearted, Webster succinctly dismantles preconceptions around disability. She analyses the “social model”, which she believes is key to understanding discrimination: it is not that disabled people do not “fit in”, but rather that society has refused to allow them to.
By Sarah Dawood

So to Speak by Terrance Hayes
Penguin, 90pp, £12.99

A poet with a habit of writing sonnets filled with natural imagery sounds like they belong in a previous age. It is testament to Terrance Hayes’s original eye and bold style, then, that his verse feels so contemporary. In his latest collection, the American poet – whose accolades include a National Book Award, a TS Eliot Prize nomination and a MacArthur “genius” grant – writes about George Floyd, living during Covid-19 lockdowns and spotting the rapper Lil Wayne in New Orleans. But it is not just the subject matter that marks out his work as definitively 21st-century.

In his verse, Hayes is blunt as often as he is open-minded, as declarative as often as he is sentimental. “My mother changed her name/To daughter, then to sister, then back to mother again,” he writes, movingly, in “American Sonnet For My Grandfather’s Love Child”.  Later, he is a realist about the difficulty of relationships: “We lie to stay together./We lie to make do. We lie to break the truth/Apart.” It is his wide emotional and tonal range, as well as his formal one – here he writes in free verse, couplets and do-it-yourself sestinas, as well as sonnets – that makes Hayes’s writing so powerfully of the present day.
By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

[See also: How to build a dictionary]

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This article appears in the 13 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Revenge of the Trussites