Unreliable Memoirs is written with a mastery of the honest and a down-the-hole understanding of its pitfalls. Honesty comes in various types and the best is exaggeration ... This is an Every-Thinking-Person's memoir. It's a record of the chaos each individual releases into the world at birth. The need for that individual to think is evident in the well-thought-out descriptions of the protagonist's thoughtless acts.
His book is like other memoirs of modern times in assuming and acknowledging that while fiction may be treated as a form of autobiography, autobiography may be practised as a form of fiction ... The whole book is, without intermission, humorous and entertaining, so that we view it as an extension of his act, and don’t need to be told that his early fears and uncertainties are still with him ... The book embodies an impulse to confess and records an impulse to aspire, and it depicts an elaborate experience of exile ... Critics will want to bite him for sticking out his neck, and hanging out his other parts. But few readers will fail to enjoy the result, and few British readers who are old enough to do so will fail to recognise in this account of the Australia in which he grew up.
...I can report that, apart from a couple of typos (though, if you ask me, ‘slipped’ is a more evocative word with three Ps) and one or two lazy descriptions, such as dubbing rugby league legend Reg Gasnier’s sidestep ‘a kind of poetry’, James’s prose barely has a scratch on it ... He might label the trilogy ‘unreliable’, but I don’t believe him for a minute ... James isn’t so coy. Certainly, he provides his readers with cute, wholesome stories about antics in the bushes, backyards and streets – billycart races, snake confrontations, swimming, sunburn and lollies – simple elements that, if left in their crude form, would amount to sentimentality and little more. But that doesn’t happen with James’s memoir because it contains intricate psychological wiring. He is a sad, clever funny-man, an observant loner, a dreamy only child whose father died too soon, someone who suspects in early boyhood that there may be shortcomings in his nature and worries himself into a state of feyness about it.
US readers--no strangers to the masturbation/ acne/inferiority-complex routine--will still find some engaging quirks in these crisp, smartsy recollections of growing-up in Sydney, Australia ... Fairly diverting material--but James self-indulgently provides more detail than most readers will want...And only the final chapters--about his gawky college awakening to literature and art--are consistently fresh and funny. Intermittent amusement, then, as tedium and arch self-regard alternate with genuine insights and vividly-evoked youthful stumblings.